From a letter written by Te Rangi Hīroa (Captain Peter Buck) quoted by James Cowan in The Maoris in the Great War: A History of The New Zealand Native Contingent and Pioneer Battalion: Gallipoli, 1915, France and Flanders, 1916-1918. Auckland, 1926. Creative Commons (attribution and share alike, New Zealand licence).
The battlefields of the First World War were one of the first places where Māori and Pākehā fought alongside each other. It was an opportunity to find commonalities when compared with soldiers from other places, and for Māori to show their own identity on an international stage. Despite conflicting viewpoints, at the time, about whether there should be a Māori contribution to this war, the soldiers from the Pioneer Battalion earned great and long-lasting respect.
Te Rangi Hīroa, also known as Peter Henry Buck (Ngāti Mutunga), became well known among Māori as a doctor before the war. This led to him being asked to stand as a Member of Parliament for Northern Māori. Before going to war himself, he travelled around New Zealand encouraging other young Māori men to enlist in the Māori volunteer contingent. He thought Māori volunteering would show that Māori and Pākehā had equal rights and responsibilities as citizens and as an obligation under the Treaty of Waitangi.
Once he was overseas as a medical officer in the Native Contingent Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū (which later became the Māori Pioneer Battalion), Te Rangi Hīroa helped to convince the commanders to let the contingent join the battles at Gallipoli and to fight alongside the other soldiers rather than remain in garrison duties. He noticed that Māori soldiers soon got a reputation for their bravery and strength and that they earned the respect of the other troops – and of their enemies!
Te Rangi Hīroa received a Distinguished Service Order award for his conduct during the war. He was promoted to second-in-command of the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion (also called the Māori Pioneer Battalion or Māori Battalion), became a respected anthropologist after the war, and was knighted in 1946.
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Possible discussion questions
Why is Te Rangi Hīroa remembered in New Zealand today? Which other New Zealand leaders from the First World War are remembered today?
What leadership attributes did Te Rangi Hīroa show? How would these leadership attributes be important today?
How are Māori who contributed to the First World War recognised differently to Pākehā? What Māori soldiers do you know about? What are they recognised for?
The letter from Te Rangi Hīroa says that “the Māori is a better man than they gave him credit for”. Who did he mean by “they”’? How did “their” opinions change about Māori? What caused these changes?
The Māori contingent (Native Contingent) first went overseas for garrison duties. What does this mean? Why do you think Māori were not initially allowed to enlist as soldiers during the First World War? Why do you think a separate battalion was formed for Māori? Why do you think the Māori Pioneer battalion was withdrawn from combat after Gallipoli?
How does this letter indicate that the relationship between Māori and Pākehā changed during and after the war in comparison to their relationship before the war? What caused these changes? How have they impacted on our lives today?
How might the experiences of a Māori soldier differ to that of a Pākehā soldier in the First World War? How might they differ in the armed forces today?
What happened to those Māori who refused to fight in the First World War?
Do you think everyone should be allowed to go and fight in a war on behalf of their country? Why or why not?