Wira Gardiner’s book, Ake. Ake. Kia Kaha E!, paints a powerful & often painful picture of the trials & tribulations of the men of B Company 28 Māori Battalion, from its inception in October 1939, to its demobilisation in January 1946.
Importantly, he gives historic context to the involvement of Māori in the NZ Army, by pointing back to the Māori Pioneer Battalion, which sailed with the 1st New Zealand Expeditionary force in WW1, & served with distinction at Gallipoli & on the Western Front.
Wira then provides a detailed account of the national and intra-Māori politics involved in raising 28 Maori Battalion, and the decision by Māori that the individual companies should be organised along Iwi lines – B Company comprising the Hauraki & Bay of Plenty Iwi. The politics and racial sensitivities involved in selecting the officers and NCOs of the Battalion, which required a balance between military experience and cultural familiarity, is also well described.
Using official information, other writers’ books, personal accounts & whanau interviews as his base, Wira follows B Company in particular, but 28 Māori Battalion in general, through the disastrous battles in & retreats from mainland Greece & Crete, the mixed fortunes of the Desert War in North Africa, & finally the more successful campaign in Italy.
The writer punctuates his narrative with insights from combatants’ perspectives into the very real shock & horror which inevitably affect those involved in killing other humans – especially at close quarter in hand-to-hand fighting. No account is more poignant than that of Corporal Riini in the aftermath of a rearguard action in Crete. Covered in blood from a German he had just bayoneted, Riini was in tears after noticing that both he and the dead German had both been clasping their rosaries when they clashed. Riini vowed never again to bayonet another enemy.
Although Wira’s book gives the facts of battles fought & associated casualties, its real virtue is bringing to life for readers the experiences of individual men of B Company; mateship while at war; fear in battle, grief for friends lost; homesickness for whanau & familiar cultural surrounds & kai. The annex listing the names of all 968 members of B Company, including photos where available, gives further life to them & their stories
Regarding presentation and writing style; given the size of the book (488 pages), and to facilitate reading, some of the more detailed personal information would sit better as footnotes, and some of the notes already indexed at the back of the book would be better placed on the relevant page of the text. Also, the writer tends to move quickly back & forward in time, which requires the reader to regularly re-attune to the narrative’s chronology.
The author’s cultural & military credentials are obvious throughout.
While this book will appeal mainly to those inside the NZ military history community, plus descendants of B Company men in particular & 28 Māori Battalion generally, it may also attract those interested in understanding the immediate & long term disquieting emotional effects on those intimately involved in close combat in the killing fields of war.
Reviewed by Barry Keane
Ake. Ake. Kia kaha E! Forever Brave! B Company 28 Māori Battalion 1939-1946
by Lt Col (Rtd) Sir Harawira Gardiner
Published by David Bateman Ltd