Pilgrimage 1977

This article appeared in the April 1978 NZ 28 Maori Battalion Tenth Reunion booklet. 

Pilgrimage 1977

An idea by many, but never given voice except at reunions or meetings of ex-servicemen; a desire to identify with Returned Services Association in their travels to and from the war zones; a feeling that the institution of "hari-mate" should at some stage be carried out; a knowledge that it could best be done by the Maori Battalion members; and a fervent hope that those in the numerous war graves in the far flung cemeteries overseas could be given the "hura-kohatu" traditional tangi so that they may rest in peace. These were some of the reasons for the launching of the successful 28th Maori Battalion Pilgrimage of 1977.

Just as potent was the personal involvement of so many war widows, the kith and kin of the war dead, the parents, relations and children, the many ex-servicemen of both world wars of New Zealand and Australia.

The original intention was a chartered ship but non-availability of such a conveyance resulted in a re-assessment. Three separate groups were organised, under the control of a Company called 28 Cruises Limited, with Major W. Porter, M.C. and Bar, as chairman, a Board of nine directors and a secretary-organiser in the person of Tamati Ngawati of Te Tai Tokerau.

Almost to the day of the departure of the Second Echelon in May, 1940 the just group of pilgrims left New Zealand by air. Major G. Marsden, Sgt. Ned Nathan and Sgt. Mio Wiki were their tour leaders. Many problems were encountered: strikes by airline personnel meant re-routing to reach Athens, the application of a 10 percent travel tax and devaluation meant a reassessment of finance required by both travellers and the Company, and the changes that had to be made in their itinerary. But the first group were able to make their Mediterranean tour on board the M.V. "Semiramis" of the Epirotiki Lines of Greece. The Greek Islands, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Italy, Greece and Crete and to the war graves in those places where wreaths were laid not only for and on behalf of the Maori Battalion, but also for other organisations such as the Nursing Sisters of New Zealand and Australia, the Australian R.S.L. and the New Zealand Maori Council. Personal wreaths were also part of the ceremonies at the various war graves.

All groups were fortunate that Ned Nathan was able to act as interpreter in Crete and Greece. His knowledge of their language, customs and protocol was invaluable and this in no small measure was due to the help of Katina. Talking with members of this group the consensus of opinion was that the highlight was Crete and the lavish Cretian hospitality.

Meanwhile, the second group had gone directly to London, arriving almost to the day of the disembarking of the 2nd Echelon in that country when the Maori Battalion went directly to Aldershot.

Were these circumstances fortuitous? Their tour leader, Lt. Heremia Mohi, Major Ivon Harris, M.C., and Lt. Andrew Howell and their party took part in the celebrations for Her Majesty the Queen's Silver Jubilee and were able to attend the reception at New Zealand House given by the High Commissioner Sir Douglas Charter and the visiting Commonwealth Prime Ministers and dignatories. A back to back operation saw this group in Italy, to visit the war graves and the highlight, an audience with His Holiness the Pope. The guiding hand of Father Tate, ably supported by Canon Wi Huata, M.C. A thrill for all of us back home when a small mention of this event appeared in our local press. And on to the rest of the pilgrimage.

The back to back operation resulted in the first group proceeding to London on the air- line that brought the second party to Italy. They too spent two weeks in London taking part in the Queen's Jubilee just by being there. These two groups had the services of Canon Wi Huata and Father Tate. Church services each evening and morning prayer, and full church parades at the cemeteries. Ko te amorangi ani ki mua ko te hapai o ki muri. The final party travelled directly to London by two routes via Sydney and Los Angeles. Tour leaders were Major William Porter, M.C., Matt Te Hau, O.B.E., and Toko Daniels. More problems found the tour leaders in negotiating itineraries. A five-city tour of the continent was arranged by the whole contingent with visits to the war graves of Arnhem and to Ypres, where so many names of many war dead of World War I are engraved on the walls of the Memorial Arch. The Mediterranean section seemed to be a bonus after that. And on to Athens, to follow in the footsteps of the first two pilgrimages. Long negotiations in Istanbul enabled this group to gain permission to visit Gallipoli as guests of the Turkish Army. Two of our children, both girls aged fourteen - one from the South Island, Eve Fowler, and. one from the North Island, Hinurewa te Hau - planted New Zealand seedlings as part of the commemoration service at the cemetery.

On leaving Haifa, word was received that Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus had died. In our Maori way we "hare ki te tangi tika" so the ship was diverted to Cyprus. A most moving ceremony and Major Porter, escorted by Matt te Hau and Australia's Major Alec Leach, laid the wreath on the altar in the cathedral. We all felt proud that this ceremony was conducted·with the dignity and pride that the occasion demanded. A service in Maori and English was held outside by the Canon. Just as our final Amen sounded, the cathedral bells tolled for the departure of the funeral cortege. Our wreath was the first one and, as it passed, Ani Black of Ruatoki keened the poroporoaki. A truly memorable occasion.

And so home. Each tour group has held reunions, to cement the relationships formed and to live over again the many !experiences, to pause awhile to think of those of us who are buried in the beautifully kept cemeteries overseas.

Nate tangata te whakaaro, na nga hapu i taakoto, na nga iwi o te motu o whakatutuki. Moe mai ra e tama ma i o koutou moenga roa.

Submitted by mbadmin on

Comments (0)