Rāwhiti Īhaka served with the Māori Battalion as part of A Company. His brothers' Reweti and Riki also served.
Ihaka was an orator of great skill in both Māori and English, hence, the Rāwhiti Īhaka trophy presented to winners of the junior Māori section of the Ngā Manu Kōrero speech competitions
This story of how the Māori Reinforcement Company was captured, taken from Te Wharekura 8, School Publications Branch, Department of Education, Wellington, 1964.
Published with the permission of the Īhaka whānau and Learning Media Ltd. English translation by Basil Keane (Ngāti Kahungunu).
Kua takoto ngā patu
Laying down of arms
Nā Rāwhiti Ihaka
By Rāwhiti Ihaka
Ka kōrero a Rāwhiti Īhaka inaianei mō te whawhai i Kirihi i te Pakanga Tuarua; mō tō rātou haerenga mā runga taraka mai i te tāone o Athens, ki Corinth, ki te maunga o Tripolis, ā tae noa ki Kalamata. I Kalamata ka mutu ngā kōrero a Rāwhiti nō te mea i konei ka whakatakoto te mano hōia i ā rātou patu.
Rāwhiti Īhaka speaks now about the war in Greece in the Second World War; about their journey on truck from Athens to Corinth, to Tripolis mountain, and on to Kalamata. At Kalamata Rāwhiti’s story stops because it was here that the numerous soldiers lay down their weapons.
I te 25 o ngā rā o Āperira i te tau 1941, i te ono o ngā hāora i te ahiahi, e whakaputa ana mātou i te tāone o Athens e ahu atu ana ki te Corinth Canal.
On 25 April 1941, at 6pm, we left the city of Athens and headed for the Corinth Canal.
E whā rau taraka, kī ana i te hōia, kotahi rau, koni atu rānei. E rima o ngā taraka nei i ngā Māori. Te mea tuatahi ko tō W. McKay, muri mai ko tō H. Hokianga, muri mai ko tō H. Wiremu, muri mai ko tō H. Ngata, muri mai ko te toenga o ngā Māori, i tōku taraka. He mea whakakī mai tō mātou taraka ki te Pākehā. Tokorima ngā Pākehā nei, nō Te Waipounamu katoa. Ko ngā taraka, me ngā motokā horekau i taea te mau, he mea pākarukaru, kātahi ka peipeia ki te moana.
There were 400 trucks, filled with soldiers, around 100 or more. Five trucks had Māori aboard. The first one was W. Mackay’s, following was H Hokianga’s, following that was H Wiremu’s, behind that was H. Ngata’s and behind that, carrying the remaining Māori, was my truck. There were some spare spaces in our truck filled by Pākehā. There were five Pākehā, all from the South Island. The trucks and cars that could not be brought along were destroyed and discarded in the sea.
Ko te tikanga mō te pākarukaru taraka, hei ā tuku te hinu me te wai kia rere mimiti noa, kua taraiwangia te taraka ki te taha o te moana. Tae atu, kua whakahorongia te haere o te initia pakaru noa i te wera. I te mea e tino wera tonu ana, kua tukia atu ki te moana, ki tētahi atu taraka. He taraka tino papai ngā taraka e pākarukarungia nei.
The method for destroying the truck was to let out the oil and water until it ran dry and then drive the truck to the sea shore. On arrival, the engine was run at full throttle until it overheated and broke down. Because it was so hot it was pushed into the ocean by another truck. The trucks being destroyed were in great condition.
Ko te horo o te haere o ngā taraka i tō mātou tīmatanga atu, kei te whā-tekau ki te whā tekau mā rima māero i te hāora. He tino horo tēnei haere, nō te mea kei mua tata anō tētahi taraka i tētahi, nō te hurihuri o te huarahi, me te hīpoko o ngā rāiti. I pēnei ai te horo o te haere, nā ngā whakahau mai, kia whiti mātou i te Canal Bridge i mua o te tekau mā rua karaka i te pō. Ko te hāora tērā i whakataungia hei pākaru i taua wāpu.
When we started off we drove quickly in the trucks, going between 40 and 45 miles per hour. This was extremely fast given that each truck was only a little way in front of the next, the road was windy and the headlights were extinguished.
E ahu atu ana mātou, e hoki mai ana ngā hōia Kariki ki te kāinga. Kia tino horo te tū o te taraka, ka kore ētahi o aua hōia e mate. Kia tū whakarere te taraka, kua tātāia ngā mea o muri, kua kangakanga mai ki te taraiwa.
As we were travelling, we saw the Greek soldiers returning home. We kept having to brake sharply so that none of those soldiers would be killed. When the truck would stop suddenly, the people behind were knocked about and would swear at the driver.
Ko Hēperi Hona te taraiwa i te tuatahi.
The driver in the first truck was Heperi Hona.
He Hikareti hei Raiti
Cigarettes for lights
Nā ngā uri anō o Porourangi i kite te rongoa mō tō mātou mate.
The descendants of Porourangi found a cure for our dilemma.
Ko te kai hikareti, horekau e whakaaetia ana, me tino huna rānō te kai.
Smoking was not permitted at all, and could only be done on the sly.
Well, Henry. What do you think about this idea? I queried Henry Ngata.
Paipai ana tā mātou haere i te mārama mai o te taraka o mua i te hikareti.
Our journey was much improved by having the truck in front lit up by cigarettes.
Horekau i roa tō mātou haerenga, kua kite mātou i tētahi taraka e heke ana i te pari. Ka pātai atu ahau ki taku taraiwa,
We hadn’t gone far, when we saw a truck going over a steep bank. I asked my driver.
Huri atu mātou i te huringa ka kite iho mātou i te taraka e toro ana i te ahi. Ko ngā tāngata e tūtū ana i te taha, e kangakanga ana i te taraiwa.
When we came around the bend we saw the truck being consumed with fire. People stood beside it, cursing the driver.
Nō muri noa mai, ka kite ahau i a Himi, ka pātai atu ahau, "He mea pēhea koutou i taka ai i te pari?"
Following this, I saw Himi and I asked.
I waenganui pō ka whakaokiokitia taku taraiwa, ka haere mai ko Hōrī Hēperi ki te taraiwa.
At midnight my driver rested and Hōri Hēperi replaced him as driver.
He mea kē anō te taraiwa i ngā huarahi papai, he mea kē anō te whetē tonu i te pouri, i ngā pari o Kirihi (Greece).
It is one thing to drive on a nice road, it is another thing altogether to be staring into the darkness while on the cliffs of Greece.
Horekau i roa te rironga atu mā Hōrī e taraiwa, ka taka tō mātou taraka i te parenga. I tika ai, ka whēke te taraka, ka puta anō ki te huarahi.
Not long after Hōrī took over as driver, our truck went over a bank. We went straight ahead, the truck rushed forw ard, and we came back onto the road.
Ka huri, ka huri, ka piki, ka heke, huri atu anō, huri atu anō, ko te haere tēnei a te taraka.
The truck turned this way and that, it climbed, it descended, it turned here and there, and the journey continued along these lines.
I hea noa mai anō mātou, ka kite atu i ngā mea whakamārama (flares) a ngā wakarere o te hoariri; kua rangona atu te pakū o te bomb. Tata atu mātou, e mārama katoa ana ngā tahataha o te maunga nei; he kaipuke e toro ana i te moana.
When we were goodness only knows where, we saw the flares of the enemy planes; then we heard a bomb explode. When we got closer, the slopes of the mountain were clearly visible; there was a warship ablaze at sea.
Ka Tae mātou ki Corinth
We Arrive at Corinth
Tae atu mātou ki te Corinth Canal e tū mai ana ngā hōia tiaki i te wāpu.
When we arrived at Corinth Canal soldiers were standing guarding the bridge.
Those in charge of our vehicle were the thirty men in the back.
E mārama katoa ana te wāhi nei i te kāpura. Ko te tāone o Koriniti e toro ana i te ahi; ngā mahi a te hoariri.
The whole place was lit up by fire. The town of Corinth was ablaze; the work of the enemy.
I te toru karaka i te ata, ka oho ahau i te moe. I ara ai ahau, i hinga moe atu ahau ki runga i te taraiwa, ka peia mai ahau, tata puta i te kuaha o tētahi taha.
At 3am, I awoke. I woke because I had fallen asleep on the driver and been pushed out, and nearly came out the door on the other side.
“Mate! You were the one who said don’t stop the truck until you say so. I can’t fill up unless I stop.”
"Kua moemoe anō te hunga i muri nei?"
Is everyone in back asleep?”
"Āe. Kua moemoe. Kua mutu te kangakanga mai."
“Yes. They’re asleep. The cursing has stopped.”
"Ko ngā whakahau mai me hipoki. Nā reira i hīpokitia ai. Nāu i whakaatu ki ngā Tiamana kei konei tātou?"
Our orders are to cover them. That is why they are covered. Do you want to let the Germans know we’re here? ”
“Someone knows it, but they don’t understand German.
Ka pare mātou ki te taha o te huarahi, ka tū. Ka tū mātou, ka tahuri mai ki muri.
We pulled up on the side of the road and stopped. While we were stopped, we turned around.
Truck after truck rushed by. Together they all looked like an insect from another world crawling along. Mile after mile, this insect crawled; there was no end to it.
Mārama mai i te ata, e kake ana mātou i tētahi maunga ko Tripolis te ingoa. I te ono karaka, ka rongohia te ngunguru o te wakarere. Puta mai te wakarere nei, kotahi anō, hurihuri iho ana i runga, ā, kua haere.
It became clear in the morning, that we were climbing a mountain which was named Tripolis. At 6am, the drone of a plane could be heard. The plane appeared, just one, which twisted and turned above and then left.
E kōrero ana a Hēperi ki a ia anō, "E kore tātou e eke ki te taumata, kua puta mai te kāhui nui o ngā wakarere nei. Mehemea ki te puta mai, rite tonu tātou he pūkeko, e puhipuhia ana."
Hēperi was talking to himself. “We won’t make the summit before a great squadron of planes will appear.
I runga tata atu, e tū mai ana he āpiha. "Ko tētahi wāhi o te ope taraka nei, ka piki tonu ki runga, ko tētahi wāhi, ka huri, ka heke ki raro."
Just above us, an officer was standing. “One section of this convoy of trucks will continue to the top, the remaining section will turn around and head below.”
Ka Tae mai ngā Wakarere
The planes arrive
I te hāwhepahi i te ono, ka huri tō mātou taraka, ka heke muri anō ki raro. E toru hāora, horekau anō mātou i tatū. Kua karanga mai ngā kaititiro wakarere. "Kia tūpato! E rere mai nei ngā kāhui wakarere. Tatū ki raro!"
At 6.30am, we turned our truck around and headed back down. After three hours we still hadn’t reached the bottom.
Ngā taraka e haere nei, e hipoki ana ki te kupenga taura. I pēneingia ai, kia pakeke ai te kitea iho e ngā wakarere. Tatū rawa atu mātou i te tekau karaka, e mura ana ngā hīpoki o tō mātou taraka. Tioro pai ngā taringa i te pakū, o te 'bomb'. I roa ai mātou ka tatū, he tini nō te taraka tītaritari, i runga o te huarahi.
The trucks that were travelling were covered with a rope net. This was done, to make it harder to be spotted by the planes. When we finally reached the bottom at 10am, the covers on our truck were ablaze.
I te tekau mā rua karaka ka karangatia mai mātou, kia whakatika, kia haere. Tokotoru o mātou i mahue atu ki reira. Ko te marara o ngā taraka, e toru taraka ki te māero. Ko te tere o te haere, i ngā horo katoa. Takitahi nei ngā wakarere i puta mai ki te whakararuraru i a mātou. I te kaha o te haere, kīhai mātou i eke ki runga, ka tū, i te wera o te mihini. Ka mātao, ka haere anō mātou.
At 12pm we were called to get ready to go. Three of us were left behind there.
I runga tata atu, e tūtū ana a Hēnare Ngata, me āna tāngata, kua wera noa hoki tō rātou mihini, ā, kua pakaru te taraka. I te whā karaka, ka tū mātou, ka whakatikatika, ka kerikeri i ō mātou kōhao rāpeti, ka tatari.
A little further up, Henry Ngata and his men were standing, but their engine had got too hot and the truck was broken.
I te atatū anō o te rua tekau mā whitu o ngā rā o Āperira, ka puta ngā wakarere o te hoariri. Anō ngā kāri ōriwa o Kirihi e paraungia ana. Kei runga tata ake ngā wakarere nei, e tipitipi haere ana. Ko ngā whakahau mai, kaua e pūhia kei whakaari mātou.
At sunrise on 27 April, the enemy planes appeared. It was as though the olive groves of Greece were being ploughed. The planes were just above us, gliding over. Our orders were to not fire lest we reveal ourselves.
Ko te ātaahua o ngā rā. Tino kore he kapua o te rangi. I te ono karaka i te ahiahi, ka haere mātou ki te wāpu, ki te tatari i ngā manuao, hei whakahoki mai i a mātou ki Ihipa, ki Kiriti rānei. Tata ao ana mātou e tatari ana, horekau ngā manuao i tae mai, ka tonoa anō mātou kia hoki muri. E ono pea māero, koni atu rānei. Whiti kau mai te rā, i te ata, kua puta anō ngā ānahera a Hātana, ki te parau i ngā kāri ōriwa o Kirihi. Ahiahi kau, ka hoki mātou ki te tatari i ngā manuao.
The days were stunning. There was not a cloud in the sky.
"E Kirihi, hei konei koe. Kua hoki mātou ki te kai onepū."
“Greece, see you later. We are returning to eat sand. 
While the conversation continued, Hēnare Hokianga and Hēnare Ngata returned.
"E kore mātou e haere. Mehemea ki te noho koutou, kua noho katoa tātou. Mā wai ngā Tiamana nei e whawhai, mehemea ki te hoki mātou?"
“We are not going. If you all are staying we are staying too. Who will fight the Germans if we leave?”
It wasn’t long after that a message arrived:
He whakahau nā te Brigadier ki ngā
This is an order from the Brigadier to all the soldiers of the Empire in Greece. At 6 am, on the 29th of April, you must lay down your weapons.
 Text in italics from Soutar, 2008, Nga Tama Toa: the price of citizenship, p.130. Soutar translates awaawa as river. Soutar visited the area in 2011 and traversed the route in daylight accordingly, a ravine is a better description of the terrain.