His Excellency the Governor-General Sir Bernard Freyberg responds to toasts given at the reunion of ex-service people at Uepohatu Marae in 1947. See the programme here.
The marae hosted events held on the 12th and 13th of September that included cultural competitions with local school children and the opening of the Uepohatu War Memorial Hall. The hall was built to commemorate East Coast soldiers who died during the two World Wars.
A reunion of ex-service people (including members of the Maori Battalion) was also held.
At the investiture held on the second day, seventeen decorations were presented to servicemen and women who had served abroad and on the home front.
The gathering was an important one attended by thousands including the Prime Minister Peter Fraser, the Leader of the Opposition Sidney Holland and other members of Parliament. Sir Bernard Freyberg, the Governor General opened the hall and unveiled two memorial tablets inside.
Freyberg, affectionately known as Tiny, was Divisional Commander of the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force. He led the Greece, North African and Italian campaigns. A veteran of the First World War he had won numerous honours including a DSO and the VC. He added a third bar to his DSO in the Second World War and was promoted to lieutenant general. He was also appointed a Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of Bath for his leadership of the New Zealand Division during the second battle at El Alamein. After the war he was invited to be New Zealand’s Governor-General, the first with a New Zealand upbringing. He spent 6 years in the role and returned to England in 1952.
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Lieutenant Colonel Awatere: Ladies and gentlemen, it has now come to the time where it gives me the greatest pleasure and rare honour of calling upon his Excellency Sir Bernard Freyberg to respond.
[Cheers from crowd]
Crowd member: Hear, hear Tiny
Sir Bernard Freyberg: Colonel Awatere, the Right Honourable Prime Minister, Mr Holland and members of the Cabinet and comrades of both world wars. I should like to thank Captain Arnold Reedy for the very kind and admirable toast that he proposed of the visitors, coupling my name, or rather coupling my name to reply.
I realised when he spoke, that the kind way in which you received this toast is due mostly to the fact that I am your Governor General and representative of his Majesty the King. But I could detect a more personal note in your kindness to me. You all know, no doubt that I was your Divisional Commander and as such was in control of so many of your men during the last 6 years. These war links, these war links are very definite ones and as the time goes on I think we realise how great they are. It is therefore with great pride and pleasure in the centre of the Ngati Porou tribe that I come up here and reply to this very important toast. This is a memorable meeting here and you have some very important people here in your midst. You have, the Prime Minister, Mr Holland, Members of the Cabinet. You have your first Commanding Officer Colonel Dittmer to whom you the Maori Battalion owe so much and a very large and important body of members of the Returned Servicemens Association of two world wars. You also have here probably one of the greatest gatherings of Maori ex-servicemen, certainly the greatest gathering of Maori ex-servicemen as it has been my privilege to come and address.
And just as I sat and listened to the speeches, my mind wandered back to the times of Gallipoli and of France, to Greece and Crete and the Western Desert and of Italy and I thought of the good fellows that we have been associated with, I thought of the good fellows that we have been associated with and I am certain that those people all over the world think and talk about us in more or less the same way as we do.
And I should like to add my word of praise to Colonel Leggat, to the remarks of Colonel Leggat about the Armed Forces of the Crown. The New Zealand forces will never forget and should never forget what they owe to the Royal Navy in Greece and Crete. [applause]. They should never forget what they owe to the Royal Air Force in the Western Desert and in Italy. [applause]. And I think most of us, when we think of the British Army, no matter where it is, realise how very much we and the New Zealand forces had in common with that great band of people.
I would like now to talk a little bit about our own forces the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force. I feel rather like a parent talking about its child. I feel that it’s skating on thin ice. I feel so much asosociated with all that it did and any praise I give may be construed into praise of myself. But nevertheless I would like to say one or two words about that great force. I would [sound cuts out]
…that by any day, compared with any troops, the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force as the first one, must rank very high. I feel that generations of soldiers yet to come when studying the art of war at the Staff Colleges and the training establishments will consider the achievements and the tactics of that very remarkable force more or less in the same way as before this war, we considered the work of Crawfords like division in the peninsula a hundred and fifty years before. A hundred years is not long. Only last week I had a letter from Brigadier Parkinson who’d gone across to the tactical school in Germany, that is the British Tactical School in Germany, where he said the highlight of the tactical course was the crossing over the Senio on the 9th-10th of April 1945 by the New Zealand Division. And I would recommend them to study that operation because I feel that it was a classic and they would learn a lot from studying an operation of that sort. [applause]. I don’t know whether there were many of the Maori Battalion that were present at that operation. You will remember if you did, that part of the cover plan was to disguise the New Zealand troops as the 78th British Division which we had, we had relieved. And we dressed up in Tommy clothing with battle axes on our shoulders. And I remember seeing our chairman one morning before the operation, Peter Awatere, dressed up as a Tommy, battle axe on his shoulder and all his men referring to him as ‘Toom’. Well, in that operation the Maori Battalion played a very important part and as I am going to be serious in what I say to you, tomorrow, perhaps you will bear with me if I am a little lighter in the hand tonight.
The Maori race, the Maori troops quite apart from their great action in battle, were of great value to our division from a moral point of view. The Maori soldier loves a laugh. There is one thing he loves more and that is to make the Pakeha laugh. And, gentlemen he has genius for doing it. I sometimes wonder whether it is his quickness or whether he thinks it out. I think sometimes one and sometimes the other. I’ll give you an instance of the quickness of humour of the Maori. We were in June 1940, the Second Echelon – the Glamour Boys – had arrived in the old country. And I had a look of them and I didn’t like the look of them. They’d been about two and half months on the ship wearing sand shoes and they all thought they were fit, but I didn’t think they were fit. So I sent them for march of a hundred miles in a week. And it was lovely weather we were marching across the Sussex wield. I don’t think any of them that took part in it will forget it. Especially after the march they put on sandshoes and went into the local. Well, I went along, every night, to see them march in the various battalions. And on this night in particular, they were finishing up in a village at the top of a very steep hill, after 20 miles. And here the old Maoris marching up the hill full packs, sweat streaming down their faces, it was very hot. And when they got to the top of hill one of the Sussex people said “what do you think of the hill?”
“What hill!” said the Maori. [laughter]
That was obviously thought out.
Well the second story I wanted to tell you, 1943, after the desert victory, North Africa star had been given. Maori boy in Cairo, nice, short trousers, very clean, nice shirt, complete with North Africa star. Went into the club, standing in behind the counter was a Tui looking very smart but also with a North Africa star. So this (?), but he came on and he walked up to the counter and he said to her “what’s that?”
So she looked down and she said “The North Africa star.”
He said “Have they given you that?”
And she said “Yes of course”.
And he said “What, they’ll give it to bloody donkeys next!” [applause and cheers]
I’ve only once seen a Maori at a loss for words. Also in the Club, in that Club we had a lot of voluntary workers. And we had some very fine Egyptian women, very well educated COPs, Christians. And they were great friends of my wife’s and ours. And they used to be dressed in the usual overall that was worn by the Tuis’. Nice green garment with the Onward badges on the lapels. The Maori came in and he had a look at this girl and he walked to one side of her and then he walked to the other side of her and then he walked up to her and said “look here old girl” he said “you’ll have to watch it, you’re looking more like a Gypy everyday!” [laughter]
And she said, she said to him “Thank you I am an Egyptian.”
Where upon the Maori withdrew and history doesn’t relate what he said or felt.
Well now, I know it’s getting late and I have one further thing that I would like to say and it’s this. We the visitors, have been honoured by some very fine speeches and we feel very, and we feel that we have had a great pleasure and a privilege of being invited here and treated as your guests at this entertainment. May I therefore on behalf of my wife and myself and the various guests, Members of the Legislature and others, thank you very much for having us here and being so generous in your entertainment. Thank you very much.
Sound file from Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of copyright. To request a copy of the recording, contact Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero.
Image: Bernard Cyril Freyberg. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch :Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Ref: 1/4-017933-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22797434