Māori Battalion diary - October 1941


In October, the whole of 5 Brigade moved 80 miles (130 km) west across roadless desert to Mersa Baggush, or Baggush Box, as the men came to know it. Baggush was to become the Second New Zealand Division’s advanced base and it was from here that the New Zealanders would set out to take part in the Second Libyan Campaign.  Training consisted of night and day mobile attacks, assaults on wire defences, mine clearing and navigation exercises – a hint of things to come. [1]

A concert by the re-formed Kiwi Concert Party and a letter from Sir Apirana Ngata, the ‘Father’ of the Māori Battalion, expressing Māori pride in their performance in Greece and Crete, and assuring the men that reinforcements were rapidly coming forward, helped to keep the morale of the troops at a high level. [2]

At the beginning of October the Battalion had a complement of 30 officers plus the doctor, padre and YMCA representative who were attached: 

  • Lt-Colonel: George Dittmer
  • Majors: George Bertrand, Humphrey Dyer
  • Captains: George Weir, Tiwi Love, Doug Harvey, Rangi Royal, Parekura Tureia, Whetu Werohia, M. T. S. Dew
  • Temporary Captains: Charles Bennett, Chris Sorrenson
  • Lieutenants: Ben Porter, Reta Keiha, Terry Gilroy, Dan Urlich,
  • Second Lieutenants: Peta Awatere, Don Stewart,  Henry Toka, Ariari (Addie) Mitchell, Aubrey Rota, Hone Green, Rangi Logan, Jack Reedy, Jim Matehaere, Ruhi Pene, Jim Tuhiwai, Paki West, Mervyn Mitchel, Tutu Wirepa.
  •  Attached: Capt. M. Kronfield RSM, Capt. Kahi Harawira (unit padre), Charles B. Bennett (YMCA)


  • 1 Oct: Work on road still in progress as per work table. See Routine Order 94  1715 hrs first visit by ‘Kiwi’ Concert Party was marked by a high class performance thoroughly enjoyed by all ranks.  Staged on a brilliantly lit platform, the whole show went well.  It was held in D Coy area.  Brig. Jim Hargest was also there.
  • 2 Oct: Routine work on road as per work table.  Last day of roading.
  • 3 Oct: Normal routine as per work table.  2/Lt Pine Taiapa was admitted to hospital.
  • 4 Oct: 0915 hrs Battalion parade in which the CO gave a talk on security, care of supporting weapons, use of Molotov Cocktails, and the importance of section leading.  He finally referred to correspondence received from Sir A. T. Ngata – leader of the Māori people – concerning the good response at home among the young men for further reinforcements, and also the good reports received by them of the action of the Battalion in Greece and Crete.  Read the letter.  In the afternoon all the officers with the exception of the Mortar Platoon commander took part in an exercise in desert convoy work involving embussing and debussing etc. 1200 hrs OCTU candidates were interviewed by the CO.  The unit’s strength for the week ended 7 Oct, excluding officers, was 732 ORs (incl. 5 attached). 26 reinforcements were still required to bring the Battalion to full strength.  There were 35 officers, 3 of whom were attached. 
  • 5 Oct: 1715 hrs departure of Advance Party of two officers and 16 ORs with Capt. Parekura Tureia in charge for new Division area. 1230 hrs Battalion embusses and 5 Brigade with 28 Battalion attached moves by RMT to new location area as per movement order.  Notice explaining about the honours and awards for Greece and Crete campaigns issued.  See the notice.
  • 6 Oct: 2/Lt Ted Pohio joined the unit. Battalion arrives at Division new area. See detail and map.
  • 7 Oct: 0615 hrs reveille and routine normal as per special memo, which stated mainly to settle in, tidy up area, clean all arms and equipment, check all anti-gas equipment, and the maintenance of vehicles.
  • 8 Oct: Normal routine and preparation for first exercise. Conference of company commanders. The following officers joined the unit: 2/Lts Waipaina Awarau, Syd Jackson, Tony Tikao-Barrett, Hati Rangiuia, J. R. Ormsby and Pine Taiapa.
  • 9 Oct: 5 Brigade with 28 Battalion attached carried out an exercise in mobile desert warfare.  The object was to practice navigation, movement in dispersed formation, movement in motorised transport by night, attack by day and night.  See Field exercise notice and sketch.
  • 10 Oct: Return of Battalion to bivouac area and the remainder of the day was spent in rest, cleaning and checking of arms and equipment, and maintenance of vehicles. 1200 hrs a party of seven officers including the CO proceeded by MT (two 8cwt trucks with the CO’s car) for a reconnaissance of the forward area. The party had food, water, petrol, etc for four days. They were to proceed forward by no. 7 track and in the first instance to report to HQ 4 Indian Division.
  • 11 Oct: Normal routine and swimming parades at the port of Mersa Baggush in the Mediterranean Sea.  In the absence of the CO, adjutant and IO Major George Bertrand is acting CO and Capt. Charles Bennett becomes acting adjutant and IO. The unit’s strength for the week ended 7 Oct, excluding officers, was 727 ORs (incl. 6 attached). 27 reinforcements were still required to bring the Battalion to full strength.  There were 35 officers, 3 of whom were attached.  2/Lt Awatere was temporarily detached to attend a course.
  • 12 Oct: Routine normal.  A talk on tanks was delivered to all officers in the unit.
  • 13 Oct: A party of NCOs and officers with Maj. Bertrand in charge left by MT to witness a demonstration by a squadron of tanks located approximately 22 miles (35 km) west across Mersa Matruh Rd.  They returned within 5 hours after a very interesting session. 1700 hrs return of the officer’s reconnaissance party under the control of the CO.  They had been to the forward area since the 10th October.  Otherwise routine was normal as per syllabus.
  • 14 Oct: Range practice as per Battalion RO 103 para (8). See Routine Order 103.  The firing ranges are all situated within easy distance of companies as escarpment running east and west along the Battalion’s southern boundary afforded excellent facilities.
  • 15 Oct: Range firing as per RO while in the afternoon certain officers of the unit attend a talk on R/T procedures.
  • 16 Oct: Normal routine.  Brigade exercise had been suspended. 1330 hrs a lecture by the RSM dealing with how to give evidence, certain additions in the G1098 and some sound advice on section leading work, was delivered to all NCOs. It was an invaluable lecture. 2/Lt Taiapa marched out to the Composite Training Depot. 2/Lt Pene was temporarily detached to the FGCM.
  • 17 Oct: Normal routine.
  • 18 Oct: A three-day field exercise with some of the 5 Brigade and attached troops under the control and direction of NZ Division commenced this day.  See sketch showing field exercise.
  • 19 Oct: As per appendix 4. 
  • 20 Oct: As per appendix 4.  1500 hrs the Battalion arrives back at bivouac area and the remainder of the day is devoted to rest, the cleaning of arms and equipment, and the maintenance of vehicles.
  • 21 Oct: 1100hrs the officers went to HQ 5 Brigade for a conference and the rest of the Battalion spent the day easy and some went for a swim.
  • 22 Oct: Reveille and normal routine. See Routine Orders 108 and 109By special notice which appeared in today’s RO a farewell to message was accorded to Maj. Bertrand and Capt. Weir on their appointment and transfer to the Composite Training Depot. Maj. Dyer appointed second-in-command of the Battalion. 2/Lts Tikao-Barrett, Jackson, and Rangiuia, who were attached to this unit for training purposes returned to Base Camp this morning. 1600 hrs a lecture dealing with the field exercise of 18-20 Oct was given by the CO to all officers and NCOs of the unit.
  • 23 Oct: Normal routine as per syllabus. See Routine Order 110. Specialist platoons carried out specific exercises as per syllabus, the Intelligence section spending the forenoon in lectures on conventional symbols, map and ground reconnaissance, while in the afternoon a practical exercise in direction finding over an approximate distance of 20 miles (32 km) was duly carried out. 1700 hrs YMCA mobile cinema visited setting up an open air performance in the vicinity of the Battalion Headquarters. It provided mental relaxation which everyone enjoyed.
  • 24 Oct: Routine as per syllabus. 1830 hrs the night exercise commenced and ended at 2130 hrs. This exercise was held above the Box to the east and south-east of the Battalion area extending outwards from the Battalion boundary for about 4000 yards.  Conditions affecting visibility, like all other nights in the desert were exceptionally good. The unit’s strength for the week ended 7 Sept, excluding officers, was 762 ORs. (incl. 5 attached). 4 reinforcements were surplus to the Battalion’s requirements.  There were 32 officers, 3 of whom were attached. 
  • 25 Oct: Reveille and normal routine as per syllabus. A memo re exchange of worn clothing through fair wear and tear was received from QMS and companies immediately set to to make the necessary exchanges. A small proportion of the Battalion marched out on a seven days change of air leave to Cairo and Alexandria as stipulated in Battalion RO 102 para (2) dated 11 Oct 41.  Specialist platoons still on their own training.  The Intelligence Section doing a night compass march from 1830 hrs to 2100 hrs.  2/Lt Wai Awarau and 2/Lt J.R. Ormsby joined the unit from the Composite Training Depot.
  • 26 Oct: Normal routine as per syllabus laid out in Bn ROs re church parade. In the afternoon some rugby trials were held and a small number of the Battalion was in attendance.
  • 27 Oct: 0700 hrs a further detachment of leave personnel went away for seven days change of air day. 1300 hrs the first batch from this Battalion of 27 ORs went down to the NZ Mobile Dental Unit for treatment.  This unit is two miles away by the sea. Some small gifts were distributed among all ranks. These gifts had originally been sent to men who are now on the “missing list”.  Capt. M.T.S. Dew went to hospital from where he was transferred to x(ii) list. 2/Lt Tiwha Bennett and 2/Lt Pine Taiapa joined the unit from the Composite Training Depot.
  • 28 Oct: Today spent in special training by companies in daylight attack from MT under cover of smoke from mortars and artillery. The importance of debussing, clearing wire and passing through minefields was stressed. Other items were carried out as laid down in para (3) of Battalion RO 113.  2/Lt Tutu Wirepa went to hospital while on leave.
  • 29 Oct: Battalion carries out field exercise. It took place above the Box about three miles to the south-east of the Battalion area. Exercises included desert formation practice on MT.  The Pioneer Platoon had preceded the Battalion to lay down wire and minefield.  Capt. Whetu Werohia transferred to the Composite Training Depot.
  • 30 Oct: A section from the 7 Field Coy of NZ Engineers visited the Battalion and with their active cooperation carried out instruction in wire assault, crossing and clearing of minefields. In the morning instruction in the construction of bombs and mines were delivered to the troops. 1900 hrs some fairly heavy bombs were dropped by the enemy somewhere above the Box in the direction of the landing grounds used by our Air force.  There was bright moon with occasional heavy clouds blotting out all light for some moments.
  • 31 Oct: Training normal as per Battalion RO 116 para (2).  See Routine Order 116.  Companies carrying out grenade throwing, the crossing of wire obstacles, and tank hunting. The last period was devoted to recreational rugby. See Appendix 7.


Archives New Zealand = Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga.
Ref:  28 NZ (Māori) Battalion Diary, WAII 1 1664 DA 68/1/22.


[1] Nga Tama Toa, p. 181.

[2] Cody, p. 136.



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