This article appeared in the April 1986 The Battalion Remembers II booklet.
A Son Thinks Back - Contributed by Syd Jackson, son of Everard
KO ENEI TUHITUHI HE TOHU MAUMAHARA KI TO MATAU PAPA A EVERARD ME ONA TEINA A TUTU ME BULLY. I HAERE RATAU I ROTO O TE ROOPU O TU MATAUENGA E KARANGANGIA NGI TE 28th MAORI BATTALION. NA TE PAREKURA O TE AO I TE TAU 1939-45 I KAWE RATAU KI RAWAHI KI TE WHAWHAI NGA HOARIRI E PAKENGA MAl NEI I REIRA. KO TO MATAU MATUA A BULLY TE MEA KEI TE ORA TONU I TENEI WA. NO REIRA KIA RATAU MA I TAKAHI NEI TE HUARAHI 0 ERA WA NGA MATE I HINGA MAl NEI IREIRA TAl ATU KI NGA MOREHU IHOKI MAl NEI KO MIHI NUNUI KIA KOTOU KATOA, KATOA.
My earliest memories of the 28th Maori Battalion mingle in my child's eyes with recollections of hot, Hastings summer days; of Mum slaving away over a hot stove, preserving fruit and making seemingly endless supplies of relish and pickle; of magic names like "A. T.", Cassino, Ruatoria and the Middle East; of camping at Ocean Beach - and almost drowning with three of my brothers before dad stripped off and hopped out on his one leg to tell us to let go the net we were vainly striving to get back to the beach.
I can remember the old tin trunk - army issue, which seemed to contain a million magic mementoes of the war, parts of Dad's old uniform, photographs, souvenirs - even a German luger pistol with which I pictured myself winning the war single handed!
I see us swimming all day in the Ngaruaroro River (before they diverted it and ruined all our swimming holes!) at Pakowhai, behind the freezing works at Whakatu and the Pa at Kohupatiki.
I remember Dad's "wooden leg" - as we called it when we were kids; I remember my Grandfather who lived with us, telling us constantly that we were "the worst bloody kids in the world" and of us realising that was really his way of telling us he loved us. We had photographs of dad in uniform and photographs of his brothers, Uncle Bully (Syd Jackson) and Uncle Tutu (Wi Repa). They all looked fresh and keen and young. There were photographs too of Mum's brothers, Uncle Tom and Uncle "Darkie" (Joe) Cunningham before they too went boldly off to war.
I remember finding letters in the old tin trunk - those almost microscopic pieces of paper with that tiny writing. I could never understand why they had such stupidly small letters. Stories also come flooding back of rationing, butter, sugar, meat and the scarcity of things like silk stockings. Then of course, there was rugby. I remember those stories. They were great. I can remember the hilarity they caused, the happiness and laughter of my All Black father and names like Tori Reid, Charlie Smith and George Nepia, among many others. Rugby was a stimulus, almost an opiate for our family. It was fun while it lasted, ruined only and finally for me, at least, by the senseless racism of the Rugby Union.
Like most other Maori families, we had been touched by the war. Cursed by it might, in fact, be a better description.
Living in Hastings, we were surrounded by my mother's family. My grandfather, Tom Cunningham, lived with us. He had been to the Boer War. Two of mum's brothers, Uncle Jack and Uncle "Darkie" had gone away with the 28th Battalion. Her eldest brother, Uncle Tom, had gone away at the beginning of the war and died at El Alamein. His son, cousin Koro, went away with the 28th Battalion. Uncle Jack lost a leg.
My father lost his leg. Two of his cousins, Rangi and Henderson were killed. His sister's husband, Percy Hunt was killed. Other relations like Moana Ngarimu also died.
We were told the bare details of how these had happened. The events which led to dad being wounded, were never made known to us. When I grew up, the full details were given to me. I learnt, too, of the full extent of his wounds, and appreciated more fully the agony of his life after the war. There were lots of relations in Hastings who had been to the war. The Hendersons, George, Koro and Marty; the McIlroys, the Tomoanas and others who served with the 28th Battalion and fortunately survived.
Yet, although we knew of the family we had lost, and could never meet, and although we were aware of close friends of my parents who had died, the ugliness and senselessness of war was kept from us. We were not regaled with glamorous stories glorifying war. I have always been grateful for that.
Our family suffered because of the war. We had lost brothers, uncles and cousins. Our family had grieved. We lived with our father and experienced the pain and suffering he, like many others who had survived, experienced. The tragedy was that we had only the slightest idea of how deep that suffering was.
My father often told us that the cream of a generation of Maoris had been wiped out by the war. As I grew older, I began to realise the sad truth of that statement and the enormity of the losses our people had suffered proportionate to our population. He attributed the main responsibility for this to the English, often stating that they had used the New Zealand forces and the Maori Battalion, in particular, as cannon fodder. It was his contention that the New Zealanders were sent into the most hopeless situations, with the Maori Battalion being sent into the worst of those.
I don't profess to have much knowledge of the battles, nor do I claim to have any knowledge of military strategy. However, it is my view that there is ample evidence to support his claim.
In more philosophical moments, dad used to say that perhaps "the lucky ones were the ones who didn't come back". Knowing now the full extent of the injuries he sustained, the numerous operations he had, as they tried to patch him up and the years he spent in hospital and the constant pain he suffered, I understand the reasons for that remark. When I also consider the way that affected his physical and mental health, contributed to the breakdown of his marriage and what he perceived as the loss of his kids, his remark is even more understandable.
I do not know why my father volunteered to go overseas. I do know that his two brothers who had joined the Battalion before him, both tried to dissuade him because of his kids. I've always been grateful to them for that. In part, he did explain his situation. When I first became involved in the anti-apartheid movement, and Nga Tamatoa, he gave me his full support. He said that he had joined the Maori Battalion to guarantee his kids equality and had lived to see that dream shattered. I know that he was upset when former companions attacked us - the new Nga Tamatoa, when he saw that we were fighting for the same things that so many of our people had died for in foreign lands. That stupidity surprised him, as much as it hurt and disappointed him.
But that didn't destroy the aroha he had for his companions. While his later years saw him withdraw from close relationships with people he had once been close to, that was a consequence of many factors which can't be simply explained. It wasn't due to any lessening of feelings for them.
In my childhood, I developed a pride in the 28th Battalion for its exploits in war. In adulthood I have not held that same pride for its contributions in peace. I have been to reunions of the Battalion and admired the closeness and respect of members for each other. At Tangi I have shared the grief of brothers for each other.
I have laughed at the stories of their good times and don't contest their right to that enjoyment. However, I have seen the damage done to our people in a country where whiteness and Pakeha values are the main components for reward and where brownness and Maori values are the main criteria for oppression. Facism thrives in this country of ours. While we praise the deeds of the 28th Battalion in war, let us not neglect the challenge that now awaits us.
KIA ORA MAl ANO KOUTOU KATOA