Te Hokowhitu a Tū: Badges of Māori contingents in WWI
Soldiers who enlisted in the 'all-fighting Māori unit' were reorganised several times during WWI; serving in three different battalions during the First World War. Each unit was represented by a set of badges worn on the cap or hat and the collar.
A three-part tale
In New Zealand, Māori support for the war was mixed. Many Māori were conflicted by the idea of fighting for the Crown. However, a number of Māori MPs (Liberal and Reform) and loyalist iwi leaders campaigned to send a voluntary, all-Māori fighting unit to assist Great Britain in the Great War. They believed such acts of loyalty to the empire would highlight the worth of Māori society and perhaps moderate assimilation policies and land sales.
1. The Native Contingent, NZEF
October 1914 - December 1915, C.O. Major A. H. Herbert
In September 1914, the New Zealand government announced the formation of a 'Māori Contingent'. 500 Māori soldiers began training at Avondale Camp a month later. The Native Contingent, as they were known, departed on the SS Warrimoo on 14 February 1915, arriving in Egypt on 26 March. The Contingent's motto, 'Te Hokowhitu a Tū', signified the 140 warriors of the war god, Tū-mata-uenga.
The Native Contingent badges - cap, collar and shoulder title badges - were made in Auckland by Watts Ltd. The cap badge was an oval voided brass badge with the contingent's motto shown on an oval band. At the centre are two weapons - taiaha and tewhatewha - crossing through a crown.
The Native Contingent were not part of the first landing at Gallipoli; assigned instead to Malta as a relief garrison. When they were finally called on to travel to Gallipoli, they were sent as a labour force to build and improve essential infrastructure, trenches, communication saps and supply depots.
It was in August, at the Battle of Chunuk Bair, that the Native Contingent first saw active fighting. The Contingent was divided between the NZ Mounted Rifles battalions and re-deployed as infantry.
Dr Monty Soutar, Auckland Museum's WWI Historian in Residence, takes us through the events of the Battle of Chunuk Bair from the perspective of the Māori Contingent.
The Māori soldiers became known for their ferocity, but Māori Officers revising offensive strategy to minimise casualties were ordered back to New Zealand on charges of "unsatisfactory conduct and incompetent leadership".
The Native Contingent last paraded as a unit on 24 August, and were later distributed among the New Zealand Infantry Brigade. The remaining 134 members of the Native Contingent were evacuated from Gallipoli to Egypt in December 1915.
2. The New Zealand Pioneer Battalion, NZ Division
February 1916 - August 1917, C.O. Major George Augustus King
In February, the Native Contingent became part of the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion. They adopted a new set of badges - a cap badge and two smaller versions which were worn on the collar. The badges were voided brass with a fern wreath frame surmounted by the head of a Māori warrior. The letters 'NZ' and two crossed weapons are inside the frame. There is a base scroll with the word 'Pioneers'.
They were joined by the 2nd Native Contingent (who arrived in Egypt in October 1915), the Otago Mounted Rifles and later, the 3rd Māori Contingent. The Pioneer Battalion was sent to the Western Front in a support role - tasked with digging trenches, building roads and setting up lines for communication. They were often at the front line and continued to see heavy casualties.
Men from the Cook Islands joined the New Zealand Battalion as members of the 3rd Māori Contingent. They wore a version of this badge with an abbreviated version of 'Cook Islands Company' on the base scroll.
Offers of men from the Cook Islands and also from Niue were accepted by the Native Contingent Committee when quotas for enlistment could not be met. The Committee, made up of Maui Pomare (chairman and also Minister for the Cook and Other Islands), Apirana Ngata (Eastern Māori MP, Pita Te Rangihīroa (Northern Māori MP), Taare Parata (Southern Māori MP)and Timi Kara (General MP for Gisborne), had over-estimated the support and capacity of Māori to fulfill the recruitment and re-enforcement quotas.
Not all iwi leaders supported the call to sign up. Western Māori MP Pomare failed to win support from his own electorate. Waikato, who suffered invasion and large land confiscation in the 19th century, actively discouraged enlistment, while publicly adopting a neutral stance to avoid persecution under wartime regulations. Conscription with Pomare's prompting was directed towards Waikato-Maniapoto men in 1917. 'Te Ope Tauatahi', the famous recruitment song, specifically honours those tribes who willingly provided fighting men.
3. New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion, NZ Division
September 1917 - March 1919, C.O. Lt. Col. C. G. Saxby
In September 1917, the Otago Mounted Rifles unit was transferred out of the Pioneer Battalion. The Cook Island unit was sent to join the Rarotongan Company in Sinai-Palestine and the Niueans, who were seriously affected by exposure to new diseases, were sent home via New Zealand.
The New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion hat and collar badges were voided brass badges. They were made of an oval band with the words 'Te Hoko Whitu A Tu' and, at the centre, a crossed taiaha and tewhatewha superimposed with a crown.
The Battalion returned home after the ceasefire and toured New Zealand. They were disbanded in March 1919.
Cite this article
Te Hokowhitu a Tū: Badges of Māori contingents in WWI. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 15 October 2015. Updated: 20 June 2016.