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A new literary taonga has been published with Monty Soutar’s Whitiki! Whiti! Whiti! E! Māori in the First World War.
The sheer scale of this magnificently published 576-page book (Bateman), will be a treasure for many New Zealand families whose tīpuna included members of the New Zealand Māori (Pioneer) Battalion of the First World War and those iwi and Pacific Islands from whence the volunteers came.
A particular strength of the book as a taonga – there are many – is the mata created especially for the book by Prof. Derek Lardelli depicting ‘three mata (shells or bullets) which caused so many casualties’.
The mata are used to section the chapters which, page upon page, include maps, charts, and a huge collection of photographs. Of the latter, the photos of individual soldiers collected from archives and families especially for the book are the most poignant, especially as Soutar has researched personal information and written many caption/ stories of the soldiers and their families. Many of the photographs have been digitally coloured by Sir Peter Jackson including the front dust cover of the battalion gathered on the beach at ANZAC Cove.
Every solider who served is mentioned in the book in one way or another. However, this book is not just about the soldiers of the battalion. This is a cultural, social and political history of New Zealand at the time. Chapter one, Before the War, Porongirangi ana te Pakeha starts with a time line beginning in 1897 with Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and goes through to August 4 1914 when the UK declared war on Germany. The Chapter traces the life, the many facets of politics of the day including land tenure and compulsory military training, plus race relations. There is a list of 46 Māori who served in in the South African war.
Nothing is glossed over. Issues of recruitment from different iwi, especially from the Waikato and Taranaki still bruised by injustices of the New Zealand Wars, are covered. The enthusiasm of many to fight for King (UK) and Country (NZ) are also detailed. Sickness, desertion, injustices, every aspect of life in the Battalion is covered, often inclusive of letters from the front or official reports.
There is also much praise and many accounts of collective and individual bravery. Humour is never far away for the Māori Battalion: Private Bill Maopo had a rude awakening when shells landed among his him and his mates while they were sleeping at Leeuwerk Farm on the Western Front. ‘Maopo fled in just a shirt and socks. They had to run “through a paddock full of growing California thistle, up to our knees”‘. Perhaps it wasn’t funny at the time, just in retrospect.
The detailed accounts of action are harrowing. ‘The Maori lads came under heavy fire as they tore up the stakes. “I think I will be killed at that wire” said one. “The bullets came ping, ping over our heads, but the Turk he fire too high. Paikare…we have a [lucky] escape that time.”‘
In all there were 2227 Maori and 458 Pacific Islanders who served in the Battalion.
This is not the first book to be written on the history of the Battalion. Chris Pugley’s Te Hokowhitu a Tū: The Māori Pioneer Battalion in the First World War was published in 2015 by Oratia Media. However, Whitiki! Whiti! Whiti! E! Māori in the First World War expands greatly on the information and context of the history of this famous Battalion.
Reviewed by Lincoln Gould
Whitiki! Whiti! Whiti! E! Māori in the First World War
by Monty Soutar
Published by David Bateman Ltd