This article appeared in the April 1992 NZ 28 Maori Battalion Reunion booklet.
During World War 2 Maori Battalion teams fared very well against many of the Unit and international fifteens. In England, during the winter of 1940-41, the Maori Battalion team showed such superiority, that the Welsh Rugby Union invited it to play a Welsh fifteen on the ground made famous by the 1905 All Blacks when Deans' try was disallowed.
After a long train ride in the cold, the team arrived at Cardiff at midnight. The next morning the team visited the ground and were shown the plaque indicating the spot where Dean had scored. The team included M. Delamere, M. Francis, T. Paraone, E. Howell, P. Kurupo, B. Jacobs, Bubu Matenga, G. Harrison (Capt.), A. Wanoa, N. Carroll, L. Harris, T. Timihou, P. Kutia, W. Cooper, G. Pitman.
The game was played at a tremendous pace. Bunny Jacobs was caught offside and the Welsh scored a goal. Then came a repetition of the famous disputed Dean's try. In a melee on the Welsh line, one of the Maori forwards dived over. The referee was unsighted and the try was disallowed. Many spectators booed the referee. Five certain points and the usual shot in the arm for the Maoris was lost.
The Welsh scored a gem of a try soon afterwards which was not converted. Stung by this reverse the Maori backs swung into action. Eddie Howell, playing magnificently, received from Bubu Matenga, drew Bunny Jacobs' man then unloaded to Bunny who sped through the gap to score. Thousands of hats flew into the air. Delamere missed an easy kick. Two more penalties to the Welsh clinched the game.
The Welsh team presented ties to the Maoris later.
Wilf Wooller, the famous international played in this game. Opposing Bunny Jacobs was a youngster who in 1950 toured New Zealand with the Lions team. He was a mere slip of a lad in 1940, but a very efficient one at that. Over 12,000 spectators watched, not only the game, but the skies above for German bombers.
In the first spell the Maoris defended desperately, with Div. Sigs pressing hard for most of the half. A penalty enabled the Pakehas to lead 3 - 0 at half-time.
The Maoris changed jerseys in the second spell which saw a rejuvenated team tearing into everything. A break came in the first ten minutes when Wordley crashed through, passed to Aratema, who scored. Bully Jackson converted to make the scores 5 - 3. Another penalty against the over-anxious Maoris brought the score to 6 - 5 against them. Time flew. Then came the gem of all tries. Pine Taiapa, one of the team coaches, told me that the subsequent move had been practiced well before the final game. Charlie Taite, ex-Hawkes Bay rep., was closely marked throughout. Play was then consistently switched away from him in the second half. Then when Div. Sigs. were lulled into thinking Charlie was not to be persevered with the ball swung towards him.
What a grand run. Charlie cut diagonally across field wrong-footing opponents as he sped on to score in the corner. The kick failed although it took unusually long to set it up! The final whistle sounded soon afterwards and the Battalion's unbeaten record stood for all time. 2.N.Z.E.F. rugby team conquerors of the South Africans at Elamein Sports Ground 1943-44 though it was not an all Maori team. The N.Z.E.F. best team included eight Maori.
In swimming, Battalion teams excelled. In the summer of 1941 Ces Aratema, Jim White, Manu Pene and Sonny Sewell were included in the National Sporting Club team often, which competed against other Clubs at the Egyptian Championships. Through the efforts of the Maori representatives in the team, the National Sporting Club ran out winners. Each member of the team was presented with a medal by none other than the handsome King Farouk.
In 1943 after the desert campaign, the Battalion entered a team consisting of Bill Whareaitu (Capt.), Ces Aratema, Reuben Pene and Jim White in the Divisional Championship. The Maoris won nine out of ten events and the relay race, won by the Maori Battalion team had to be seen to he believed. Bill Whareaitu was the last of the Maori team to swim. As he dived into the water his opponents had two or three lengths start. Bill knew this had to be the swim of his life. Half-way he unleashed a sprint which had all the spectators yelling. Slowly he surely overhauled his opponents to win by the barest of margins!
In the presentation of trophies, General Freyberg remarking on the monotony with which the Maori Battalion team was receiving the medals, said, "What! Again?" Bill Whareaitu went on to represent the New Zealand Division at swimming in Italy till well after the cessation of hostilities.
No account of sporting activities would be complete without reference to the Freyberg Cup - how we bet the Div. Sigs in a close encounter.
The Freyberg Cup was awarded on each occasion that a knock-out tournament could be completed by all units of 2NZEF.
Winners of this trophy were:
1940 - 19th Wellington Infantry Bn
1941 - 32nd Training Battalion
1942 - Not competed for
1943 - 28th Maori Battalion
1944 - 22nd Wellington Infantry-Bn
The finals for the Cup were played in Tripoli. The Battalion had entered two teams but in the semi-finals the "B" team went down to the M.G, s. The final eventually being fought out between the Battalion "A" team and Div. Sigs.