James Henare was the son of Tau Henare (MP for Northern Maori, 1914-38). He was educated at Motatau School, Awanui, Takapuna, Thorndon Normal School, Sacred Heart College, Auckland. He joined the Maori Battalion of Massey Agricultural College as a private and rose to be its commanding officer. He played football, tennis and cricket. He was vice president of the Kawakawa Dental Clinic Association, executive tangi of the National Trust Board, chairman of the Motatau School Committee and a member of the Kawakawa district RSA and on the Kawakawa tribal executive. In the 1946 and 1949 elections he contested the Northern Maori seat.
In 1933 he married Rosie, daughter of Johnson Cherrington. They had 3 sons and daughters.
In North Africa Henare was Second-in-Command of A Company and was engaged at Medenine and Point 209.
Henare was wounded in the attack on the German forces between Miteiriya Ridge, Ruweisat Ridge and the Qattara Depression on 24 October 1942. The Maori Battalion was to ensure that the sappers clearing the vital tracks through the minefields for the passage of guns and armour were not molested by overlooked strongpoints. The account of the night's operation reads: The assaulting infantry moved towards the opening line of the barrage, which was due to start rolling at twenty-three minutes past ten; fifteen minutes later the mopping-up parties followed into the mixture of moonlight, dust and smoke. A and B Companies, following 23 Battalion....were caught in a counter-barrage and there were some casualties, including Captain Henare. In October 1943 the Battalion moved across the Mediterranean to Italy and A Company commanded by Henare was engaged at Orsogna, Cassino, the advance on Florence and the Rimini campaign. The New Zealand Division's last battle in Italy was in April 1945. Henare was promoted to the rank of Major. The 28 Battalion fought five major battles for the Senio, Santerno, Sillaro, Gaiana and Idice rivers and smashed three German divisions, 98th, 278th and 4th Parachute in the process before it broke through to Trieste.
With the end of the war in Europe - recorded in the war diary in capital letters: NEWS RECEIVED TODAY THAT THE GERMANS HAD SURRENDERED UNCONDITIONALLY TO THE ALLIES, AT 0241 HRS 7 MAY 1945 - the Maori Battalion was asking 'where do we go now'. Many in the battalion had seen long service and were due to return home, others were organised for service in the Pacific. Lt-Col. Henare was the commander of this second group. However the surrender of Japan on 15 August changed those plans and Henare returned to Wellington on the Dominion Monarch arriving on 23 January 1946. The troops assembled on the wharf and were met at the Aotea Quay gates with all the ceremony pertaining to the return of a war party. Anania Amohau (a returned original member of the battalion) and Henare enacted the ancient ceremony of the wero.
Lt Col Sir James Henare, KBE, DSO enlisted as Private, commissioned, was promoted Captain in 1942, and Major in 1945. He commanded his last parade of 28 Battalion in 1946.
In an interview in 1984 Sir James had this to say about his childhood and the influence of the elders on his development: 'I was brought up in an age when our tupuna and elders demanded instant obedience and respect for authority. Whakaiti, or humility, ethics and good manners were part also of our training. For example, out of respect for visitors in the homes and on the marae, the tangata whenua and certainly the children were not permitted to eat until the visitors had eaten. As children and later as young people we were not allowed to speak in front of our elders in a hui. Indeed we were to be seen, and not heard and to use our listening powers. I was taught that service to one's fellow man was the greatest reward in life'.
On the subject of Maori culture he said 'My love of my culture was instilled in me at an early age, cultivated in my attending the last whare wananga of my subtribe Ngatihine. All my cultural background and tuition was eagerly sought by me and freely given by my tutors.'
His grandparents and his father exhorted him never to leave his people and the marae and this sense of loyalty kept him close to his home. In the same sense of loyalty and obedience he accepted the decision of his father and grand uncle on whom and when he should marry. 'My wife and I were betrothed (Puhi) to each other when we were both around about three years of age. Two weeks after I was informed, that it was time to get married, we were wed.'
He returned to New Zealand on the Dominion Monarch on 23 January 1946.
Discussing the future of Maori he said: 'We must believe and appreciate that among the many qualities indispensable to the progress and success of our people are self knowledge, mastery over our follies and passions, a keen sense of duty and moral obligation. Foremost in the greatness of a person as for a race, is its character.
'As the hastening years unfold, let us preserve the good that is old and add to it the good that is new, in our march towards an even brighter and more glorious testing. Kia ora ra koutou i raro i te maru o Te Runga Rawa.'
Tu Tangata 19, Aug/Sept. 1984, p. 12-13.
Discharged to the Reserve List of Officers on 22 May 1946 AWMM