Speech by Hon Christopher Finlayson, Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, at the launch of the 28th Māori Battalion website at Parliament, 6 August 2009.
The speech is followed by a rendition of the Māori Battalion song, March to victory.
Rau rangatira ma. Tena koutou katoa
E nga tini mate
Haere, haere, moe mai
Ko Chris Finlayson toku ingoa
Te Roia Matua
Te Minita mo nga Whakaritenga Tiriti o Waitangi
Te Minita mo nga Take Toi, Tikanga,
Taonga Tuku Iho
Tenei aku mihi mo te Kawanatanga
Kia ora huihui tatou katoa
To the veterans of the 28th Māori Battalion: it is a pleasure to have the chance to introduce to you the 28th Māori Battalion website. This is a memorial project dedicated to you, and to your whānau and friends, in commemoration of your deeds in the Second World War.
Several years ago, the 28th Māori Battalion Association suggested an initiative to preserve the memory of the Battalion, in an electronic format for the digital generation.
The idea got traction. A memorandum of understanding was signed, and this year the Ministry for Culture and Heritage developed the site, working with Te Puni Kōkiri which has, among other things, supplied the translations for the te reo versions of the text. The National Library provided numerous photographs and oral histories.
The 28th Māori Battalion is an inspiring story - perhaps above all a story about courage in the face of adversity. The Battalion had the distinction of being involved in some of the most gruelling campaigns, and 649 of its 3600 men lost their lives.
The website has a quote from Lieutenant-General Bernard Freyberg, Commander of the 2nd NZ Division, who said: ‘No infantry battalion had a more distinguished record, or saw more fighting, or, alas, had such heavy casualties as the Māori Battalion'.
His words are a tribute to the members of the Battalion and their deeds - at 42nd Street in Crete; at Monte Cassino in Italy; at Tebaga Gap where 2nd Lieutenant Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngārimu won his Victoria Cross; at Takrouna where Sergeant Haane Manahi won his Distinguished Conduct Medal [having been recommended for a VC]. The reputation the Māori Battalion forged for itself made all New Zealanders proud to call these men their own.
The official New Zealand history of World War II runs to some 50 volumes.
There has been a trend, in recent years, for war histories to focus not only on the broad deeds and facts, but on the experience of the individual. Increasingly people are recognising the importance of the memories of those who lived through war. Letters, diaries, memoirs, photographs and other souvenirs - things that might be collecting dust in the backs of drawers - are the human link. Without these our knowledge of wartime would become increasingly academic.
There have been a number of initiatives to capture these taonga. The Ministry for Culture and Heritage's ‘Lest we forget' campaign encouraged New Zealanders to donate their war records and memorabilia to museums and libraries. The Ministry has also produced a series of seven oral history books focusing on the Second World War. This entire series is currently being reprinted.
Some very good books have been written about the Māori Battalion: Te Mura o te Ahi: The story of the Māori Battalion by Wira Gardiner; and Monty Soutar's Nga Tama Toa: The price of citizenship, which focuses on C Company.
The Māori Battalion website will add to these existing records a growing collection of personal anecdotes, first-hand accounts, photographs, audio files and videos, to help bring to life the experiences of the members of the Māori Battalion.
Above all, this is an interactive website: all New Zealanders can have a hand in adding content, and they can do so at any time. The website is specifically designed to draw on these informal memories and collections, as well as more formal research. Therefore, the website will continually expand to tell a fuller story.
The context is a concise historical overview of the 28th Māori Battalion written by historians at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. From here there are links to all the relevant articles, personal accounts and so on, giving the perspective of those involved.
These make compelling reading. They reveal not only stories of great hardship, and the recurring theme of the loss of friends and comrades, but also the lighter moments - the camaraderie, the discovery of small comforts and humour in even the darkest times.
A key part of the website is the ‘Battalion Roll' - a personalised history of each and every member of the Battalion, to which they, their families and their friends can add comments, memories, photos or whatever they feel is appropriate. What is striking, when you read through some of the material posted so far, is how moving some of the personal messages are. People are making the space allocated to a family member or friend not just a record of facts but a digital memorial.
Since it went live on 30 June, the Māori Battalion website has attracted several thousand visitors who have viewed over 50,000 pages. A growing number of people are registering and adding content. It is a promising start to the project.
I look forward to seeing, as word spreads, more and more people taking part in this unique electronic memorial to the 28th Māori Battalion.
E ngā toa o Tūmatauenga,
To the soldiers
I tae ki te mura o te ahi
Who went to war
So that we could know peace,
Kei te mihi kei te tangi.
We salute you and we remember.
Huri noa i tō tātou whare
Ladies and gentlemen
Tēnā koutou tēnā koutou tēnā koutou katoa.
Recording by Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
Photographer: Roihana Nuri, TPK.