Charles Bennett speaks at the unveiling of the Ngarimu memorial at Te Poho o Rawiri marae, Gisborne.
Charles Bennett: This afternoon, I think it’s most appropriate that we should be unveiling this memorial to Moana nui a kiwa Ngarimu and those of his friends who did not return. Because it was on this very day, the 27th of March 1943 that Ngarimu was killed at Pt 209. I was there, and I remember when the attack was done by C Company the previous evening on this Pt 209 feature, which was heavily defended by the Germans. It was a rocky feature and the Germans were all dug in, into the rock - almost an impregnable position. And I knew we had a very tough job. But the army generals had told us that this feature had to be denied to the enemy because he could look over and see all our movements, we were forming up to break through this Tebaga Gap. Unfortunately for C Company the job of taking this hill feature in broad daylight, I think the attack started at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, frontal attack, uphill, rocky feature, unfortunately C Company and Ngati Porou it was their turn. Now, in the morning, news had trickled down to me, uh, news of the outstanding contribution of Ngarimu. You know before that, both General Freyberg and Brigadier Kippenberger - our superior officers, they said to me you know it’s a pity we haven’t been able to give a Māori soldier the Victoria Cross. See unfortunately right from the very beginning even through Greece and Crete the Māori Battalion fought as a whole unit and performed outstandingly. And if it were possible I would say to, to award a Victoria Cross to a whole unit the Maori Battalion would have got it well before in Crete and Greece. But unfortunately there was not, all the soldiers were good, all the fighting was outstanding but we couldn’t select one. And of course when we heard about Ngarimu’s exploits, word was passed down to me, we knew that here was our chance. And of course our superior officers, the generals were all delighted when they heard about this. In point of fact, we were discussing the award; I was discussing with my officers the award of the Victoria Cross to Ngarimu, this particular morning. Ah it was, it was ah Bully Jackson, I remember well, and Wally Haig who came down from Pt 209 in the morning and said to me “this man is deserving of the Victoria Cross.” And so I started questioning them to get more details and it was just while we were discussing this that the Germans broke through again, on the top, broke through and it was at that moment that Ngarimu was killed. However, it is appropriate that I think at this occasion, we should think about those outstanding soldiers, we should think about Ngarimu and all those others who laid down their lives to protect their country and their people.
Elder reads inscription: The inscription on the tablet, written in Maori:
“He tohu aroha ki nga tama toa i haere atu i konei ki te pakanga nui o te kotahi mano iwa rau toru tekau ma iwa (1939) ki te kotahi mano iwa rau wha tekau ma rima (1945) tae atu hoki ki nga kaihautu o Te Poho o Rawiri na ratou nei e manaaki”.
That’s the Maori way, there are 100 licensed interpreter ‘round about you and they’ll tell you all about it. Thank you very much.
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Detail of Officers at Katerini
Alexander Turnbull Library
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