In February 1943, before setting out for Tebaga Gap, the Tairawhiti officers (including 2/Lt Ngarimu) informed Sir Apirana Ngata of the state of C Company. They wrote of a unit of mostly recovering wounded about to go back into action. Some of these men had lost brothers, and in the letter the officers raised concerns about families being wiped out in the front line. The letter ended with an appeal to consider bringing the Maori Battalion home. By the time the letter reached Ngata, news had already circulated of the deaths at Pont 209 of Ngarimu and 22 others, some of whom belonged to the very families named in the letter. On receiving the Tairawhiti officers’ letter (on 29 March 1943) Ngata acted promptly. He rang Peter Fraser and then sent the letter with a hurried translation and his thoughts.
Per Air Mail
16 o Pepuere, 1943
Ki a Apirana,
Tangi mai ra, e Api, ki a matau katoa o nga pakeke o te Tairawhiti arita mai hoki mo te kore reta putuputu atu ki a koe mo matau e noho atu nei. Na to reta tonu i koko ki te pumanawa rawa, katahi ano ka oho ake te whakaaro ki nga kaupapa i whakaatatia nei na e koe. Mai i te wa i uru ai te ope Maori ki tenei pakanga tuarua ki roto ki Ripia, no te uunga mai ki runga o Tiripori, katahi ano te hinengaro ka matatea ake i te kopiritanga mai i te whatinga mai i Topuruka tae mai ki runga o Aramena.
I roto i enei marama mai i a Hune, Hurae tae noa ki Noema, e rua nga Kanara kua hinga, a ko te toru tenei i te tama a te Pihopa. Te Kanara tuatahi me ona whakaaro, tumanako, kaore i tutuki i te tangohanga a te pakanga. Te Kanara tuarua pera ano, kaore i tutuki ona hiahia, ara kia tiakina ia a tae mai ki te wa e wikitoria ai ki runga o Ripia, ka hinga ia i te tahi o Noema, ka riro i te tama a te Pihopa tenei tuunga. Mai i a Noema tae mai ki tenei ra kotahi tonu te kaupapa, ara ko te haere whakamua anake, ko te mahi i te wahi i whakataua ma te ope Maori. Kaore he tirotiro ki muri, ki katau, ko mua tonu. E mohio ake ana te whakaaro, ahakoa ko wai taua Kanara mo tenei Ope, koia ra ano te kaupapa. Ka taea hoki te pehea. Ko tenei kaupapa kei runga i te arahi o te riri a nga C in C, tae atu ki te Pirimia o Ingarangi i korero ai ki a matau i te 4 o te marama nei. Ara ko tenei, “ E u ai ki tahaki he kokiri, ma te hunga kua pakatia e hari. Waihoki ko koe ko Nui Tireni, nau i taea ai te hoariri te tute atu ki waho o Ripia, i te mea kua taunga, kua pakatia koe ki te riri. No reira kei mua tata ake nei ma koutou ano e whakatakoto he kaupapa hari i te riri, hei ako, hei tauira ma nga Ope kaore ano ia kia iriiritia ki te mura o te ahi.” Koia nei ano te te C in C (Ropu Waru) i korero ai ki nga Apiha katoa o Nui Tireni i te 8 o nga ra o te marama nei.
Ko te whakarapopototanga o tenei ahuatanga e korero ake nei au, kia kore ra ano he morehu o ia wananga, ka mutu ai to koutou rongo kua hapa a Nui Tireni, ara te Ope Maori ano ranei tetahi, kaore ranei nga Kamupene o te Ope Maori. Me timata tonu i to Ngati Porou.
Tuatahi: O te rau kei te Kamupene i tenei ra, e 22 no te ope tuatahi i haere ra ki Ingarangi. Ko te toru tenei o nga pakanga mai i te riri i runga o Kariti. Ka toru, ka wha, taotutanga o te tangata, a, ki te matakitaki iho ko te koiwi noa kei te hari i te mahi. Te ope o muri iho, i a Peta Awatere, Hone Te Kauru Green, Tutu Wirepa e 9 te morehu, a ko ratau ka rua, ka toru taotutanga, i te mea i uru ratau ki te pakanga o Kariti, o Kiriti. Te ope i a Te Awarau raua ko Taiapa no te riri tuatahi ki Ripia ka uru tae atu ki te ope i a Te Hati me Jackson. A te ope i a Te Waipaina raua ko Pine kei te Kamupene i naianei, 18 ratau, kotahi e rua taotutanga. A te ope i a Te Hati me Jackson e 25 kei te Kamupene, a kotahi, e rua taotutanga. Te Ope Tuawhitu i haria mai nei e Tutaki, no tenei pakanga ka uru, a koia nei te Ope i tino kaha te taotutanga i runga o Aramena; ratau kei te Kamupene e 25, a te nuinga he taotu i pai ake, a kua tae mai ano.
Tuarua: Etahi o nga hoia o tenei Kamupene kei te hopuni i Ihipa, kaore he tangata kotahi i reira kaore ano i taotu. He hoia ano kei reira, he matemate no nga tinana, kei nga Hohipera e paea haeretia ana. No te 4 o Hanuere ka u mai te Ope i a Kirena me Tawhai, a ki nga rongo korero tekau ma tahi mo tenei Kamupene. No reira kaore he kaha toitu i te hopuni paraki i roto o Ihipa. Otira, maku e ki penei, ko ratau e noho taotu mai ra i te hopuni hei whakaki i nga hoia e tupono ano te aitua a nga ra e takoto mai nei. Kaore e taea te pupuri atu e nga Apiha, Kai-tiaki, Kai-whakahaere o te paraki, i te hiahia haramai o enei tangata, i te hoha ki nga ture o tenei mea o te paraki.
Tuatoru: He nui nga hoia kei nga Hohipera e whakaoraora ana, ahakoa kaore ano i rite te wa mo te whakaputa mai ki waho i te kore tohungatanga o te titiro a nga takuta, taipuatia mai ai ratau ki te paraki, a hei reira ka tuaruatia ano te titiro i a ratau. Otira te hoia i uaua te oraora ake whakataua ai ki te ‘grading’ mo tona ahua. He roa tenei kaupapa e whakahaeretia ana e nga Takuta tae atu ki te Poari, a i te hoha o te hoia ki te tatari, hei te karangatanga i te ope mo te haere hei whakaki i nga Kamupene, ka korero parau noa kei te pai a ia, a uru atu ana, hoki atu ana ki te Kamupene. Ko te hua o tenei, ki tonu tenei Kamupene i aua momo tangata.
Tuawha: Ko tenei wahi kei runga i te kaupapa o te Compassionate Leave. Kei te mohio mai koe ki tona kaupapa. E wha nga rerenga o tenei ahua. He korero e au kotahi, a ko tenei na: “He hoia, he taina, he tuakana tona kei Ihipa nei, kei te pakanga, a i taotu i mate ranei, ka ahei ki te tono kia hoki ia ki te kainga...ara tona korero ki te whakamaoritia...hei morehu tangata.” Ko tenei kaupapa kei te warewaretia e nga Kaiwhakahaere, a tenei kei te titirotia, a kei te tonoa hoki e nga Apiha o te Tairawhiti ki te Kanara, kia whakaaetia nga Hoia o te Nati kia hoki atu, haunga ia nga mea kei te hopuni, engari ia ko nga mea kei roto i te mura o te ahi. Aua tangata ko nga Poutu, Hooper o Te Araroa, Peachey o Tikitiki, Nepe o Ruatoria, Wanoa o Rangitukia, Houia o Reporua, Henderson o Te Araroa, Pariohe o Te Araroa, White o Hicks Bay, Brooking o Ruatoria, Campbell o Ruatoria, Paringatai, Waenga o Whangaparaoa, Mackey o Tikitiki, ara atu, ara atu. Ratou katoa kua taotu, kua mate nga taina, tuakana. He tono tika tonu tenei, a ko te tumanako o te ngakau kia whakaaetia tenei tono i mua o te haerenga o Niu Tireni ki tetahi atu pakanga.
Tuarima: He huihui tonu te mahi a nga apiha o te Tairawhiti, a he rapu i tetahi korero, i tenei kaupapa, hei korero whanui tonu atu ki a koe tae atu ki te iwi nui tonu. He mea rapu nga whika tika tonu hei tuku atu ki a koe. Ko enei ka tuku atu nei he pono katoa. Te pakanga ki Kariti, ki Kiriti, i mate tekau ma waru, herehere toru tekau (i mohiotia), i ngaro i nui tonu. Ripia e 41, i mate e rua tekau ma rua, herehere e rima. Ripia 42 i mate e rua tekau ma whitu, herehere e waru, a i ngaro e wha. Nuku atu ki te rau enei tangata o te Tairawhiti kua ngaro i te Kamupene. Haere atu ki nga tangata taotu kua hoki atu, kei te wha tekau. Mehemea ki te tirohia o te Ope Maori i runga i tenei ahua ka kitea etahi whika whakamataku. I ngaro enei whakamaramatanga i nga kamupene, i te mea he pakanga he apiha ke, he karaka ke. Kaati i tenei ra kua whakameatia e tenei aua records a kua pai, kua marama te tuku whakamarama atu ki a koutou.
Ko nga take o mua ake nei kei te pera katoa anoera atu Kamupene o te Ope Maori. Peke tonu ko te Tairawhiti, ko Ngapuhi nga Kamupene ka taea te hari mo tetahi atu pakanga, ka ngaro ai te momo o te tangata. Me kore a te Whanau-a-Apanui i tu ai te Kamupene o Te Arawa. Ko te tino kaupapa o nga Kanara o tenei Ope he patu i te mana a iwi i runga i nga Kamupene. Ina hoki a D Coy no Kahungunu, Te Taihauauru, Waikato, Te Waipounamu. Tekau no te Nati kei roto, a kaore he tangata ora i te hopuni hei whakaki i a ratau. Te Kamupene o nga Specialists, Mortar, Sigs, Anti-tank, e whitu tekau ma wha no te Tairawhiti, he Kamupene ki tonu tenei, engari hoki ko enei tangata o tatau kua rua, kua toru taotutanga, a i te haerenga o te tinana mo te haere waewae ka whakaurua ki reira. He nui o ratau kei reira te tikanga me whakahoki atu ki te kainga.
E Api, he tono atu tenei ki a koe tae atu ki te iwi nui, ina kite a whakaaro mai koe, a koutou katoa, me hoki atu te Ope Maori, ka waiho atu tena take nui ki roto i o ringaringa me to te Iwi hei whakahaere kokiritanga. Kei te tangi ra te ngakau ki te kainga, kaore hoki e taea te huna. Anei i runga ake nei nga take whakamarama. Kua paenga tenei maara, a Ripia, ki uta, a hei te wa ka tae atu tenei reta ki a koe tera pea ka paenga te maara o Tunihia ki uta. Ki te tae atu ki tenei, e ki pono tonu ana au, “Ka matua” tenei ma matau ma te Ope Maori. Kei haruru te tapuwae o te Tiapani i runga i Hawaiki, kua haruru te tapuae o Merikana ki runga i Awherika tae atu ki te Ingarihi. Kaati tenei ma tenei ope iti, kua morehutia te tangata. E Api, haunga ia matau nga pakekeo te Ope Maori, kua pu te ruha; engari ia ko te iwi tamariki, e hapai nei i te rakau a Tumatauenga.
Kua whakapa atu ki nga apiha o era atu Kamupene, koia nei katoa te korero, engari kei te wahangu i te kore Kaumatua i o ratau na iwi, hei unga atu mo nga whakaaro...ka tahi. Tuarua, koi kiaa kei te whakarere i te mahi i tohea ai e te ngakau tohetohe. Ko matou o te Tairawhiti kaore he hopohopotanga o te whakaaro mo tenei tono ki a koutou. Kua uru ki nga pakanga e toru, a kaore he hoia ora nga tinana i konei, hei whakanga i a matau. Kotahi tonu te wahi tika mo tenei ko te kainga na.
Heoi ano e Api, kaore e maha atu nga korero. Ka nui te ora o te Wiwi e noho atu nei, haunga ia ko te anga anake; ka taea hoki te aha. Ko Peta Awatere, a Pine, a Te Wananga, Jackson, Tutu Wirepa, a Te Moananui, kei a ratu te Kamupene inaianei. Ka nui te pai o ta ratau mahi, ka nui hoki to ratau ora. Ko te Karei kei te Paraki e whakahaere ana. Kei te tangi atu ra matau o tamariki, ki a koe, a ki nga morehu Tipuna, ara, Taina, Tuakana. Whaia ki nga aitua o te kainga na, ki a matau wahine me a matau tamariki hoki. E Api, mau ra e hoatu o matau aroha ki a ratau katoa. Ma te Atua Nui koutou katoa, a me matau hoki e noho atu nei e manaaki, e tiaki i roto i enei wa pouri.
Ko te Watene Pahau me Harry Mackey kei OCTU i naianei; he tamariki enei e whakaaronuitia ana e matau, a e te Nati katoa.
He tika hoki, e Api, to tangi, otira aua atu te tomuri o tenei reta. Tenei ra te whakamaramatanga e hiahiatia nei e koe. Kua haina katoa matau i tenei reta, na reira kia piki te ora ki a koe, e Api, te Kai-hautu o te Iwi Maori. Kia tau te rangimarie me nga manaakitanga katoa a te Atua ki a koe.
Na o tamariki aroha
Kingi A. Keiha
N. T. Wanoa
W. Te A. Haig
M. N. Ngarimu
S. I. Jackson
Per Air Mail. 18th of February, 1943.
Send, o Api, your tangi and greetings to us, the elders of the Tairawhiti, and chide us for not writing oftener about us, who are here. It was your letter that reached to our innermost beings, and roused to an appreciation of the things you have put for our consideration. Since the Maori Battalion entered into the Second Battle of Libya and from that time until it stood upon Tripoli the mind is at length recovering from the stress of the retreat from Tobruk to the taking up of position at Alamein.
During the months of June and July and from then to November we have lost the services of two Colonels, and we now have a third in the son of the Bishop. The first Colonel had his thoughts and hopes, which were not fulfilled since the fortunes of war removed him. And so with the second Colonel; his desire was not fulfilled, that he might be spared until victory was achieved on Libya; he was put out of action on the first of November, and was succeeded by the Bishop’s son. From November until this day there has been only one plan, and that is to go forward and to carry out the part assigned to the Maori Battalion. There is no turning back or aside, but only a looking forward. One appreciates, that whoever was Colonel of this unit, he could have no other plan. What else could be done? This plan was part of the major plan of the C in C, and of the Prime Minister of England, who unfolded it to us on the 4th of this month. This was it: “An advance can be successful only if seasoned men conduct it. Thus it was that you New Zealanders were able to push the enemy out of Libya, because you are experienced and seasoned in battle. Therefore it will not be long before you will have to undertake and lead in the fighting, to teach and to set an example to units, not yet baptised in the fire of battle.” This was also said by the C in C (British Army) to all the Officers of the N.Z. Division on the 8th of this month.
The implication of all this that I have set out is, that until there is none left of any unit will you not hear of the N. Z. Division or at least of the Maori Battalion. I say this, because of the strength of the various Companies comprising the Battalion. To commence with Ngati-Porou:
First: Of the 100 composing the Company at present there are 22 of the original Coy that went to England. This is their third campaign since the Battle of Greece. Men have been wounded three or four times, and it is their spirit only that enables them to carry on. Of the next reinforcements, that came with Pata Awatere, Hone Te Kauru Green, Tutu Wirepa, 9 remain, and have been wounded two or three times, because they were in the Greek and Cretan campaigns. The reinforcements under Awarau and Taiapa first tasted battle in the first Libyan Battle, as also the reinforcements under Te Hati and Jackson. There are 18 now of the reinforcements under Waipaina and Pine in the Coy, and have been wounded once or twice. Of the party under Te Hati and Jackson there are 25 with the Coy, and have been wounded once or twice. The 7th reinforcements brought over by Tutaki entered the fighting in the present Battle, and their losses at Alamein were very heavy, the heaviest of all in wounded. There are 25 of them with the Coy, most of the men recovered from wounds and rejoined.
Secondly: Some of the men belonging to this Coy are at Base in Egypt, and there is not a single man there that has not been wounded. There are other men there, sick men, who are spread round the hospitals. The last reinforcements under Keelan and Tawhai arrived on the 4th of January, and it is reported that they include 11 reinforcements for this Coy. So you see that there is no sufficient reserve at base in Egypt. But I can say that the wounded who are now at Base are the ones to take the place of men, who may be put out of action in the days ahead. They cannot be held back by Officers or Guards or administrative Officials at Base, because of their desire to rejoin and their being tired of the restrictions of the barracks.
Thirdly: there are many men at the hospitals convalescing. Although not properly fit to be discharged from hospital yet owing to the hurried examination by the Doctors these men are crowded on to Base, where a further examination is made. Men not up to standard are graded and there is great delay in the process by the Doctors and the Medical Boards. The men get tired of waiting and when reinforcements are wanted for the Coys they make themselves out to be fit and rejoin the unit. The result of all this is that this Coy is full of that kind of man.
Fourthly: This paragraph has to do with the matter of Compassionate leave. You will know about this. The matter can be discussed under four headings, but I will deal with one only, namely: “Take a soldier, who has or had a brother here in Egypt in the fighting, who was wounded or killed. He can apply to come home… meaning, that there might be a morehu or survivor”. This aspect has not been considered by those in command, but it is being looked at and the Officers of the Tairawhiti have asked the Colonel to allow men of the Ngati-Porou to come home. This does not apply so much to the men at Base, but to those now in the firing line. The men are the Poutus, Hooper of Te Araroa, Peachey of Tikitiki, Nepe of Ruatoria, Wanoa of Rangitukia, Houia of Reporua, Henderson of Te Araroa, Pariohe of Te Araroa, White of Hicks Bay, Brooking of Ruatoria, Campbell of Ruatoria, Paringatai, Waenga of Whangaparaoa, Mackey of Tikitiki; and there are others. All have been wounded, and have lost brothers. This request is to be commended, and we hope in our hearts that it be granted before the Division takes part in another campaign.
Fifthly: The Tairawhiti Officers have had many meetings to discuss general observations, that may be made to you and the people. Care has been taken to see that the figures sent to you are correct, and the correctness of those now sent can be vouched for. In the Greek and Cretan campaigns the losses were, deaths 18, prisoners 30 (known) and missing many; in Libya (1941) total casualties were deaths 22, prisoners 5; Libya (1942) 27 deaths, 8 prisoners, 4 missing. Thus over 100 men of the Tairawhiti have been lost to the Coy. Then there are the wounded men who have been lost to the Coy. Then there are the wounded men who have been invalided home, 40 of them. If the Maori Battalion is regarded from this angle the figures are tragic. They had not been seriously considered by the Companies hitherto, because of the many changes in administrative officers. But to-day our records have had an overhaul and so we can communicate accurate information.
So, o Api, this is our request to you and the people, should you or they desire that the Maori Battalion return home, we leave that matter in your hands and the hands of our people to deal with. Our hearts are yearning for home; that cannot be concealed. The explanations are as set out above. This field, Libya, is finished with. By the time you receive this letter the campaign in Tunisia may also be over. Should that eventuate I can honestly say to you, ‘This is enough for us, the Maori Battalion’. The tramp of Japanese feet is resounding on Hawaiki. Already the thunder of the feet of the Americans and of the English reverberates on the soil of North Africa. This should be sufficient for this handful of men; only a remnant is left of them. As for us the elders of the Battalion, o Api, there is the saying, that the strands of the old net are sagging with use. It is for the young ones, who are straining to lift the weapons of the god of war, that we are pleading.
The positions of the other Companies is the same as stated above in respect of this Coy. Only the Tairawhiti and Nga-Puhi are able to carry on for another campaign, and then there will be none left. But for the Whanau-a-Apanui the Arawa Coy could not carry on. It has been the deliberate policy of the Colonels of this Battalion to suppress the identity of the tribes in the composition of sub-units. Thus D Coy comprises Kahungunu, West Coast, Waikato and South Island. There are 10 Ngati-Porou there, and there are no sound men at Base to reinforce them. Then the Coy of Specialists, Mortar, Transport, Sigs, Anti-tank – 74 of them are of the Tairawhiti, almost a full Coy; but these Tairawhiti men have been wounded two or three times. When their physical condition did not allow of them acting as infantry they were put into the Specialists. There is a large number of them so included, but they should be sent home.
Officers of other Companies have been consulted and they are all of the one mind, but they keep their mouths shut, because there are no elders of their tribes to receive their views. In the second they do not wish it to be said, that they threw up the job they so strenuously pressed to do. We of the Tairawhiti have no hesitation in putting the case before you. We have been in three great battles; there is no man here with a sound body to take our places that we may rest. There is only one place in this case and that is home.
Enough, o Api, there is not much more that can be said. The boys here are well, although mere shells. What can you expect? Peta Awatere, Pine, Wananga, Jackson, Tutu Wirepa, Te Moananui, are in charge of the Company. They are well and doing well. Te Kareti is administering at Base. We convey to you, our elder, your children’s greetings, and also to our surviving grandparents, parents, brethren, the more because of those who have passed away at home. We greet our wives and children, and ask you to convey our message of love to them. May the Great God keep them and us here, and protect all in these days of trial.
Te Watene Pahau and Harry Mackey are now at OCTU; they are lads who are much in our thoughts and those of all Ngati-Porou here.
And so, o Api, we appreciate your greetings and ask that this belated letter be received. Here are the explanations you are seeking. We are all signing this letter, and conclude by wishing you health, you who are the fugleman of the race. May God’s grace and favour rest upon you.
Published with the permission of the Ngata Family
English translation by Sir Apirana Turupa Ngata
Alexander Turnbull Library
Ngata Family Papers, MS-Papers-6919-0788