Māori Battalion diary - September 1941

Overview

The Battalion relocated from Tahag to an area near El Alamein where they assisted in building a fortress area as part of the Nile valley defences. Fortress A, which the New Zealanders called the Kaponga Box, was a 10-square-mile semi-circle of low, steep-sided ridges where mechanical transport could only move freely through an area 40 miles wide. The coast was one flank and the Qattara Depression the other.[1]

The Battalion’s task was to construct a 10-mile (16 kms) stretch of road connecting the Box with similar defensive work at Alamein. The 5th Field Company engineers who supervised the work suggested that a working party of about 90 men should be able to complete up to 100 yards per day. The battalion, always unorthodox in its approach to a new situation, completed 400 yards the first day with one company on the job. This apparent miracle was performed by putting experienced men, regardless of rank, in charge of the various gangs while the others, including the officers, worked under the direction of the experts.  Swimming at the beach near Alamein broke the monotony of the work.  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 September the Battalion had its full complement of 33 officers plus the doctor, padre and YMCA rep 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, Paul Te Punga
  • Lieutenants: Ben Porter, Reta Keiha, Terry Gilroy, Chris Sorrenson, Dan Urlich, Tiwha Bennett,
  • 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, Pine Taiapa, H. T. Maloney, Atanatiu Te Puni
  • Attached: Capt. M. Kronfield RMO, Capt. Kahi Harawira (unit padre), Charles B. Bennet (YMCA)

Diary

  • 1 Sep: Companies prepare for the move from El Tahag to new area. Kit bags were loaded onto the trucks and returned to base. Lt-Col George Dittmer left for the staff College at Haifa. Maj. George Bertrand took over command of the Battalion. The advance party under Capt. Rangi Royal left for the new camp.  The party comprised of 2/Lt Addie Mitchell and 39 ORs: Bn HQ 3, QM staff 1, cooks 2, each rifle coy 1 NCO and 5 men, HQ Coy 1 NCO and 9 men (incl. 2 cooks).
  • 2 Sep: In morning rifle companies carry on with drill, bayonet training. Bn HQ carried on with specialist training.
  • 3 Sep: Road party under Capt. George Weir left for El Alamein as per movement order of 2nd. 0600-0700 hrs rest of Battalion carried out physical exercises. 1000-1200 hrs bayonet training, assault course. Afternoon easy. 2305 hrs rest of Battalion left Tahag and marched to Caesarain Station. 2330 hrs arrived. 2359 hrs entrained. 
  • 4 Sep: 0400 hrs train moved out. Most of the day spent travelling. 1330 hrs hot lunch at Amiyria. 1700 hrs arrive El Alamein Station.  Embussed and left immediately for new location.  Map ref: 1:50,000 El Diyura A Coy 86442716, B Coy 86842716, C Coy 86552714, D Coy 86612714, HQ Coy 86652714, Bn HQ 86532714. See map drawn by Pte Moana Ngarimu of the “I” Section in Battalion Diary.  Arrived at new location at 1900hrs.
  • 5 Sep: Battalion digging in and preparing bivouacs in general.  Maj. Bertrand, who was Acting CO called conference of officers and outlined circumstances and purpose of Battalion’s stay in this area.  He gave company commanders particulars of road work to be done. Census of Middle East troops taken.
  • 6 Sep: Work was commenced on the road which was called for convenience Kaponga—El Alamein Road.
  • 7-12 Sep:   Work on the road. Report received from Court of Inquiry held during the week as to how Pte J. Hemopo of B Company was injured at Tahag firing range on 27 Aug. See the Routine Order detailing this incident. The unit’s strength for the week ended 7 Sept, excluding officers, was 727 O.R.s (incl. 6 attached). 27 reinforcements were still required to bring the Battalion to full strength.  There were 36 officers, 3 of whom were attached.  Capt. Paul Te Punga and 2/Lt Pine Taiapa went on courses.  Lt Reta Keiha was the Liaison Officer with 5 Brigade.
  • 13 Sep: No work on the road today as per special orders. The unit’s strength excluding officers was 726 ORs (incl. 5 attached). 32 reinforcements were still required to bring the Battalion to full strength.  There were 36 officers, 3 of whom were attached. Lt Tiwha Bennett was admitted to hospital.  Lt Terry Gilroy, 2/Lt Don Stewart, 2/Lt Ruhi Pene, and 2/Lt Jim Tuhiwai went on leave.
  • 14 Sep: 1010 hrs Battalion left for beach at El Alamein for swim. 1900 hrs returned.
  • 15 Sep: Work on the road.
  • 16 Sep: 0900 hrs Lt-Col Dittmer went to Brigade HQ as Acting Brigade Commander.  End of summer time - clocks put back one hour.  Sgt Wattie Vercoe of Rotorua, Cpl Don Mitchell of Wairoa and L/Cpl Matarehua (Monty) Wikiriwhi who enlisted from Cape Runaway were selected to attend OCTU
  • 17 Sep: Work on the road.
  • 18 Sep: This morning Maj. Bertrand, still Acting CO, took some of the officers to the 22 Bn area to view the layout of section pits, platoon pits and general company defensive positions.  He took the balance of the officers this afternoon to the same place for the same purpose.
  • 19 Sep: Work on the road as per special orders.  B, D and HQ went to El Alamein for swim.
  • 20 Sep: Work on the road. The unit’s strength excluding officers was 726 O.R.s (incl. 5 attached). 32 reinforcements were still required to bring the Battalion to full strength.  There were 36 officers, 3 of whom were attached. Maj. Humphrey Dyer, Capt. Parekura Tureia and Capt. Charles Bennett went on leave.
  • 21 Sep: As per routine orders.  Officers visited the area allocated to Battalion in Fortress A. Commanders marked out their platoon and company areas.
  • 22 Sep: Battalion works on the road except A and C Coys who went for a swim as per special orders. 2/Lt Atanatiu Te Puni became Liaison Officer to 5 Brigade.
  • 23 Sep: Work on the road.  Lt-Col Dittmer returned to the unit.  Battalion broadcasts a concert.  Listen to recordings from the concert. Notification came that Sgt George Katene, Cpl Jack Tainui and Pte Tommy Duncan had each been awarded the Military Medal for gallantry in action in Greece.  See Routine Order No.88 from the Battalion battle diary for more details.
  • 24 Sep: Work on the road. Some members of unit broadcast messages home.
  • 25-30 Sep: Work on the road. The unit’s strength for the week ended 27 September excluding officers was 723 ORs (incl. 4 attached). 34 reinforcements were still required to bring the Battalion to full strength. 2/Lt H. Maloney was admitted to hospital leaving 29 officers, 3 of whom were attached. Lt-Col Dittmer and Capt. Rangi Royal went on leave.  Maj. Humphrey Dyer and 2/Lt Jim Tuhiwai went on courses.

REFERENCE

Archives New Zealand = Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga.
28 NZ (Māori) Battalion Diary, WAII 1 1664 DA 68/1/21.

Footnotes

[1] Cody, p. 135.

[2] Cody, pp. 135-136.

 

Submitted by mbadmin on Tue, 16/08/2011 - 13:54

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