Documentary: Te Roopu Rua Tekau-ma-waru a Tu: 28 Māori Battalion

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Te Roopu Rua Tekau-ma-waru a Tu: 28 Māori Battalion. A documentary broadcast on Anzac Day, 25 April 1980 by Radio New Zealand. Produced and jointly presented by Stephen Riley and Whai Ngata, using archival material from the Radio New Zealand Sound Archives. This programme won a 1980 Radio Award for best documentary.

The veterans taking part were Te Oka Huata, Canon Wi Huata, Sir Charles Bennett, George Marsden, Jack Baker, Barney Phillips, Robert Ruka, and broadcaster Wiremu Parker.

The programme opens with actuality of the return of New Zealand soldiers on the Dominion Monarch, including members of the Māori Battalion, on 23 January 1946.

The men of A, B, C, and D companies were known as the “gum diggers” from the North, the “penny divers” from the Bay of Plenty, the “Cowboys” from the East Coast, and “Ngāti Walkabout” from the South Island. These men had volunteered to fight, and whanaungatanga, or deep ties of kinship played a big part in their decision – if one family member enlisted, the others felt they should follow. Members of the Battalion tell their reasons for enlisting, including following brothers, and the influence of Sir Apirana Ngata who encouraged his own tribe, Ngāti Porou, to go over. A veteran speaks about leaving New Zealand on the troopships - with an initial spirit of adventure, but also a feeling of homesickness.

For some of the elders of the day, racial pride was at stake. Māori must fight alongside their Pākehā brothers in defence of democracy. In every theatre of war in which Māori soldiers took part, they were respected. The German General Rommel was even quoted as saying “Give me an army of men like the Māori Battalion, and I shall conquer the world”.

A veteran speaks about what goes through the soldier’s mind when faced with the reality of war – anxiety, thinking of home, and fear. Though there was no longer any room for fear when the firing opened up – “there is no point in thinking of anything else, but to push on, attack”.

There is actuality of an artillery barrage from the closing of the campaign in North Africa. It includes mention of the rock fortress of Takrouna, where the enemy had established their strongest points, and had entrenched considerable numbers of Germans and Italians. One Māori sergeant [Sergeant Haane Manahi], assisted by four other ranks, climbed what had been considered to be an impossible height. They initiated the assault which led to the capture of this famous feature, and eventually to the collapse of the front line of the German position.

This is followed by an unidentified speaker, talking about his recollections of the brave contribution of ‘Ngārimu’ [Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngārimu], who was killed at Tebaga Gap in Tunisia on 26 March 1943. He was later awarded the Victoria Cross. Another unidentified speaker then recalls the Arawa men breaking out into the haka ‘Ka Mate’ at 3am in the morning, which was a rallying call for Māori at that moment of attack. He says it was awe-inspiring, and drove them through the wall of the enemy with very few casualties.

Archival recording of Sir Charles Bennett, the commander of the Māori Battalion speaking about Christmas Day 1942. He decided it was a sacred day, and so told his men that shots were not to be fired except in self-defence. A cheerless day was expected, with the usual hard rations – bully beef and dog biscuits. But, like a miracle, special supplies arrived - fresh pork, potatoes, tinned fruit, cigarettes, and one bottle of beer for every man. Gift parcels and mail from New Zealand arrived also, but a special consignment of muttonbirds fell into German hands.

He speaks about the difficulties of making a hangi without rounded stones and wood to heat them in the desert. The problem was solved by a group of men who drove through enemy territory to collect stones and driftwood from the Mediterranean coast, 10 miles North. They also collected four German prisoners, who were made to stay and share Christmas dinner with them. The Commander also speaks about using rare desert greenery in the meal. The hangi were uncovered at 1pm, and he says it was one of the most sumptuous and memorable Christmas celebrations he had ever shared in. The description is followed by a sound clip of soldiers singing ‘Marie Te Po’ (Silent Night).

After the war, the African Corps invited members of 28 Battalion to take part in their reunion. There is a speech from the reunion, with a story about a group of Māori soldiers patrolling an outpost position in Italy, and how they smuggled a pig out of a house.

During the war, Māori children from native schools donated money to ‘Te Rau Aroha’, a mobile canteen which followed the men throughout their campaigns. After the war the Māori soldiers brought Te Rau Aroha home, a monument to the courage of the men, and the love of the children who sacrificed the little money they had for the comfort of the soldiers. Unidentified soldiers speak about the mana of Te Rau Aroha, and how dear it was to them.

A padre of the Māori Battalion tells of his attitude to being taken prisoner - he says he would rather die than be captured. He speaks about his experiences on the front line as padre – they said commendatory prayers before they started, and always had a memorial service afterwards.

There follows actuality of soldiers returning home, including the return of the soldiers of the Māori Battalion to a marae (narrated by Wiremu Parker).

An unidentified soldier speaks about the success of the Māori Battalion, and the consequences felt today. He says on his return from the war, he felt that Pākehā attitudes changed quite markedly, in terms of appreciation of the things the Māori soldiers did over there. This was helped the camaraderie felt between Māori and Pākehā soldiers, which welled over to the general public. This feeling was very strong for the first 10 years after the war, but he feels it has gradually ebbed away since then. He says Māori leadership should have capitalised on this, and tried to hold on to it better.

Produced by Whai Ngata and Stephen Riley for Te Reo o Aotearoa using archival recordings and those made at a recent Maori Battalion reunion in Kaitaia.

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Year 1980

Reference number 55622

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Genre Documentary radio programs
Nonfiction radio programs
Radio programs
Sound recordings

Credits Bennett, Charles Moihi Te Arawaka (b.1913, d.1998), Speaker/Kaikōrero
Huata, Wiremu Wi te Tau, 1917-1991, Speaker/Kaikōrero
Huata, Te Okanga, 1920-, Speaker/Kaikōrero
Marsden, George, Speaker/Kaikōrero
Phillips, Barney, Speaker/Kaikōrero
Ruka, Rapata Robert, Speaker/Kaikōrero
Ngati Porou ki Poneke (Cultural group), Performer
Ngata, Whai, Presenter
Riley, Stephen, Presenter
Parker, Wiremu Leonard, 1914-1986, Speaker/Kaikōrero

Duration 00:45:00

Date 25 Apr 1980