28th Maori Battalion

KA mate! Ka mate!

Ka ora! Ka ora!

It is death, it is death!

It is life, it is life!

They fought and fought til the last man died, For the honour of the tribe,We will fight right to the end for God, For king and country,Maori Battalion march to glory,Take the honour of your people with you.

These few words, taken from its haka and marching song, aptly describe the very essence of the 28th Maori Battalion, some of the fiercest and bravest soldiers ever to leave New Zealand's shores.

Maori leaders understood the importance of their people playing a full part in the struggle they described as ''the price of citizenship''.

They proposed a specially formed fighting force, drawn from throughout Maoridom.

Three and a-half thousand men volunteered their lives to fight for a country in which they were fighting to be accepted themselves.

The war in Greece was not going well for the Allies where the battalion saw action for the first time.

Eventually forced to pull back, they were evacuated with the other New Zealand troops to Crete where they defended the airport at Malame with fierce hand to hand combat.

Crete fell as well and the troops were evacuated to North Africa to re-group and to face their greatest challenge to date - Rommel's Afrika Korps.

Imagine waking up with the thought of facing an army which had never suffered a defeat before.

On November 2, 1942, the attack was launched against Rommel.

The battalion suffered heavy casualties but the attack drove the Germans back.

For the first time, the German army had suffered a defeat against the Allies, including our Maori Battalion.

It was the turning point in a campaign which would go on to liberate thousands of innocent civilians, and sent a message about the might and determination of the Allied forces.

After 18 months of desert warfare, the German resistance collapsed and the Maori Battalion's reputation as one of the finest infantry units in the world had been established.

As General Westphal, Rommel's chief of staff, said: ''Give me the Maori Battalion and I will conquer the world.''

He was referring to the unmatched fierce bravery and skill shown by the Maori Battalion.

The Maori Battalion was recognised as having the best hand to hand combat soldiers in the world. This was not warfare as we know it today.

There were no bullet-proof vests and missile-proof window shields.

There were no remotely triggered warheads or remote-controlled drones.

The battle was man on man, strength against strength, honour against honour.

The men of the Maori Battalion were the very personification of courage and bravery.

The unit received an overwhelming 99 honours - the highest among the 11 New Zealand infantry battalions, but it suffered twice the number of casualties of any other New Zealand Infantry unit.

How should we pay homage in a way befitting of them?

I believe the thought in the forefront of minds this Anzac Day should not only be remembrance of great sacrifice, but the living legacy this sacrifice leaves and how we choose to honour that.

From the desert sands and the ruins of Italian villages emerged a whole new generation of Maori leaders who would be accepted in high positions of great influence, who were not afraid to lead.

These men laid the groundwork of the renaissance of Maori culture.

Inevitably, there comes a time to move forward, a time to look to the future, but this does not mean it is a time to forget.

It is a time for you to look to our own lives and discover the ways in which we see the results of actions of these brave men reflected there, to see in our communities when we walk out on to the street the lasting effect they have had on New Zealand society.

Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae said, ''Their defence of the freedoms and values that we as New Zealanders continue to enjoy are taonga to us all.''

National treasures are not only found in objects, they are also found in the names of brave men on the roll of the 28th Maori Battalion.

Kai mate a ururoa kau hei mate a tarakiki - Better to die fighting than give up easily.

Ake, ake, kia kaha e - We will not forget.


• By Sophie Ray, Year 12, Columba College



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