Te Rangiataahua Kiniwe Royal (Ngāti Ruakawa, Ngāti Tamaterā) fought in both the First and Second World Wars. He was Major in command of the 28th Māori Battalion's B Company when he was injured near Gazala in Libya.
Te Rangiataahua was born on 23 August 1896 at Muhunoa, Ohau. He spent his early life in the Horowhenua and Thames districts, later joining the Native Department in 1916. He enlisted in the Army in 1917 - serving in France for eight months before returning home.
After the war, Te Rangiataahua continued his work with the Native Department and was a clerk in the Native Land Court. He was a very successful sportsman during the interwar years - representing his province in cricket and rugby.
In 1940, Te Rangiataahua enlisted as Captain in the 28th Māori Battalion, part of the 2nd New Zealand Division who fought in the Second World War. After training at Palmerston North, the Battalion travelled by train to Wellington to board the Aquitania for Britain. Soon after daybreak on 2 May the Aquitania departed. Cody (1956) describes the scene:
"With nearly three thousand troops plus a detachment of the RNVR on board, [the ship] moved out into the stream. The Maori Battalion's last close contact with its own people was the sight of the crowd allowed on the wharf and the sound of the Ngati Poneke girls singing farewell songs as the distance widened between ship and shore. The Battalion sang its farewell song 'Po Atarau' in reply."
The ship travelled in convoy with the Empress of Britain and the Empress of Japan, travelling around Africa to avoid potential conflict. Once they reached the Irish sea they were escorted by HMS Hood, an aircraft carrier and six destroyers and reached Glasgow on 16 June. After six months training in England, the Battalion sailed back around Africa, arriving in Egypt on 3 March 1941.
After battles in Greece and Crete, the 28th Māori Battalion joined the rest of the New Zealand Division in the campaign in Libya. Te Rangiataahua was wounded in the advance to Gazala. Wira Gardiner (1992) outlines the events that led up to the battle.
"On 10 December 1941, the Maori [Battalion] were on the move westwards past Menastir, the scene of their recent triumph, and on toward Gazala. 5th Brigade was to move west towards Gazala but not get involved in serious fighting. Seventeen miles west of Tobruk, the battalions were given their tasks. 23rd Battalion was to move down the main coastal road. The Maori were to move along a track on the escarpment overlooking the coast road. 22nd Battalion moved further south.
The 28th (Maori) Battalion's first objective was Sidi Mgherreb, 'a slight rise dominated by a little hill hardly more than a pimple on the desert'. It was a very strong position, protected by a minefield on its left flank and by a line of 26 anti-tank guns, interlaced with machine guns and mortars on its right."
Using simple, if unorthodox, tactics the Battalion was successful and took over 1000 prisoners. Two days later and 12 km further west, the 28th Battalion was in action again, this time the objective was Point 181. The assault (as recorded by Cody) was a replica of the first.
"Colonel Dyer placed Captain Royal in charge with orders to consolidate while he returned to his headquarters back on the first objective. Royal in turn instructed A Company and 17 Platoon to consolidate while he went forward with B Company to exploit in case there were more enemy about. They found a field ambulance, medical stores, a food truck, a car and several motor cycles. The Arawas had taken time off to sample the Italian hot coffee in the food truck when the approach of daylight disclosed still more enemy in trenches close by.
They did not offer much opposition and the Maoris [sic] took over their weapon pits. B Company's adventures were not yet over for at first light another enemy group was seen about 400 yards away, apparently standing around waiting to surrender. The Maoris [sic] were proceeding to oblige them when the enemy suddenly turned and manned some guns behind them, whereupon B Company's men dived for the cover they had just left.
By the greatest of good fortune a Vickers crew had arrived by this time and came immediately into action cleaning up the enemy gun crews, breaking up an incipient counter-attack, and ensuring that the guns remained unmanned. Captain Royal and Lieutenant D Stewart were wounded by the same mortar shell and Lieutenant F T Bennett took command."
After recovering in hospital, Te Rangiataahua returned home to New Zealand. He was appointed Chief Welfare Officer, becoming the controller of Māori welfare in 1946. He was involved in many Māori development initiatives - playing a significant role in the development and implementation of the Māori Social and Economic Advancement Act 1945. Royal & Jamison (2014) describe him as "influential in pursuing tribal self-determination through the establishment of some 500 tribal committees formed to consider issues related to education, health and employment".
Retiring from working life in 1956, Te Rangiataahua received an OBE in 1964. He died on 8 July 1965 and is buried in Muruika Soldiers' Cemetery, Ohinemutu.
Cody, J. 1956. 28 (Māori) Battalion. Wellington, N.Z.: Department of Internal Affairs, War History Branch.
Gardiner, W. 1992. Te Mura o te Ahi: The story of the Maori Battalion. Auckland, NZ: Reed.
Royal, T. and Jamison, T. 'Royal, Te Rangiataahua Kiniwe', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 28-Jan-2014.
Cite this article
Te Rangiataahua Kiniwe Royal. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 28 November 2016. Updated: 23 October 2020.
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