Medals for everyone?

Medals for everyone?

Medals are a way for European countries to recognise service and achievement. Māori were first awarded medals for service when they began supporting the British forces during the New Zealand Wars of 1845–47 and 1860–66. A total of 612 New Zealand Medals and five New Zealand Crosses were awarded to Māori.  

In World War I, the New Zealand Defence Force was reluctant to accept Māori for military service until there was political pressure to do so. Māori were then eligible for military awards. The Niue and Cook Island troops who had served with the Māori Pioneer Battalion in World War I were also recognised with campaign medals. 

Anyone who wanted to join the Allied forces had to be a British subject by birth or naturalisation, because of the need for loyalty and for fear of enemy spies. At the time, New Zealanders were British subjects. Non-British subjects were considered ‘aliens’ – the term for people from another country who were not citizens of New Zealand – and were banned from joining the military unless they first became naturalised. New Zealand’s 1908 immigration laws did not allow the naturalisation of Chinese people born overseas. New Zealand-born Chinese and Sikh servicemen who had served in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force were awarded medals.  

An exception to the ‘race alien’ rule 

Ratan Chand Mehra came to New Zealand in 1884 to work and to act as a translator for other Indian workers on a Taumarunui farm. He had a strong commitment to the British Empire and wanted to serve in the military when war broke out. Ratan successfully appealed to the Military Service Board for an exemption to the ‘race alien’ rule.  

Ratan was enlisted as a rifleman in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, the first Indian to serve in the New Zealand Army. He was also the army’s first Indian war casualty – he died in 1917, killed in the trenches in the Polygon Wood sector near Ypres in Belgium. Ratan’s widow in India was sent his British War Medal and his Victory Medal. 


Full length portrait of Private Percy Rameka, Reg No 16/1574, of the 5th Maori Contingent, New Zealand Maori Pioneer Battalion. Schmidt Collection, Auckland Libraries.

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Rihari Heretaunga, Te Arawa

Rihari Heretaunga, Te Arawa

Rihari Heretaunga was a member of the Te Arawa iwi (tribe) from the Bay of Plenty. He was one of 612 Māori who received the New Zealand War Medal for fighting with the British during the New Zealand Wars of 1845–47 and 1860–66.  

In the 1860s, Te Arawa aligned themselves with the Crown because they were similarly hostile towards iwi led by Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki. Te Kooti waged a war against the British forces for nearly four years. 

Rihari was a member of the Arawa Flying Column, a unit of 100 young Te Arawa warriors. In 1913 he was awarded the New Zealand Medal for service under fire. Veterans had to apply for their awards, but it was not until 1913 that Rihari applied for his –  a new pension of £36 per year had just been introduced for those with the award. 

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New Zealand Medal 1860-66 presented to Rihari Heretaunga. 2001.25.540.

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Rawiri Maki, Ngāti Porou

Rawiri Maki, Ngāti Porou

Rawiri Maki was a member of the elite Forest Rangers, who used specialist bush-fighting skills during the New Zealand Wars of 1845–47 and 1860–66. Rawiri served with government forces and took part in the week-long attack on the pā (fortified settlement) at Waerenga-a-Hika near Gisborne in November 1865. 

The siege was the result of a clash that had arisen between those iwi (tribes) led by Te Kooti and those who believed that Te Kooti’s Pai Māirie movement (also known as the Hauhau) was a threat. Government forces were sent to subdue the conflict, including about 50 Forest Rangers. Rawiri may have been a guide because of his local knowledge.  

 

During the siege, Te Kooti was taken prisoner and shipped to the Chatham Islands. He escaped in 1868 and Rawiri volunteered with other local Māori to support the Armed Constabulary’s attempts to recapture him in July and August 1868. Te Kooti evaded capture. 

Rawiri was awarded the New Zealand Medal for military service under fire, but it wasn’t issued until 1914. Veterans had to apply for their awards and many didn’t until a new pension of £36 per year was introduced in 1913, providing an incentive. 

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New Zealand Medal, New Zealand Wars (1860-1872) presented to Rawiri Maki. N1694.

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Rewiri Ihaka, Ngāti Kahu

Rewiri Ihaka, Ngāti Kahu

Rewiri Ihaka served in both world wars. He came from Northland and first enlisted in 1914, joining the Māori Pioneer Battalion. The Contingent fought at Gallipoli where there was a heavy toll on all the Allied forces. Rewiri was then sent to France.  

Over the course of the war he was severely wounded and also became ill on several occasions, spending time in New Zealand hospitals in England. In 1918, Rewiri suffered serious head injuries and a gunshot wound to the jaw, requiring plastic surgery.  

In 1919, he was discharged medically unfit and received a permanent disability pension. He was awarded the 1914–15 Star, the British War Medal 1914–19, and the Victory Medal.  

 

Rewiri volunteered for war service again at the start of World War II. He was declared fit for home defence, but his earlier injuries, including a shell fragment still in his head, meant he was unable to carry out his duties. He was placed on leave without pay for the rest of the war. Rewiri was awarded the War Medal 1939–45 and the New Zealand War Service Medal. 

In 1967, the New Zealand and Australian governments introduced the Gallipoli Medallion for those who had taken part in that campaign. Rewiri was awarded his medallion in 1969. 

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British War Medal 1914-1920 presented to Rewiri Ihaka (16/452). 1979.227.

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