This is one of a series of interviews conducted as part of an oral and photographic history of C Company of the 28th Māori Battalion. The project commenced in 1994 and the Nga Taonga a Nga Tama Toa Trust (Box 399, Gisborne) hold the recordings on behalf of the descendants of C Company.
Miki Harrison was born 2 May 1916 and was the son of Ned Harrison of Waipiro Bay and Pera Poutu of Wharekahika. In the full interview Miki recounts his experiences with the Maori Battalion, from training in New Zealand in 1939 to fighting in Greece in 1941 where he was captured. He also talks about his time in Germany in a Prisoner of War camp which only ended in 1945.
The interviewer is Tamati (Tom) Fox supported by his mother's brother John McIlroy, both originally from the Waipiro Bay area. John was with the Sixth Maori Reinforcements and caught up with the Battalion in Egypt in 1941. Monty Soutar is on camera and Pia Pohatu is also present. Both were members of the C Company oral and photographic research team and also from the area. The interview took place at Miki's residence in Te Puia Springs, 24 November 1994.
Tom: Now on the 16th of April you made contact with the enemy at Petras Pass, Mt Olympus.
Miki Harrison: Mt Olympus. That's right, we were, we were up at Olympus when the Germans started coming in. We looked down at the, down and we could see them coming on the [other side of the Mavroneri Gorge]. That's where Paiki and, not Paiki, Percy [Goldsmith] we were looking at ... and we saw two lizards (John: Ae, he tino tohu pai. (Yes, that's a favourable omen) on a branch, whaiwhai ana, whai haeretanga te (chasing each other, the [green one] was chasing the), what's the colour of our uniform?
Miki: Oh khaki, the green one was chasing the khaki. Ko mea mai a Percy (Percy said to me), "Gee we're going to be chased out of here, look." (Tom: yeah.) And I said, "what?"
"See those lizards there (Tom: Go on.) the green one chasing the khaki one."
Tom: Go on, eh? Well look at that.
Miki: Look at that and that's what happened.
Tom: E kī, he tohu. Rite tonu ngā tohu. Kua kite i tēnā tohu, nē?
(Well, an omen. Just like premonitions. You had seen that omen, eh?)
John: Ae, tērā pea te mea, te mea te lizard tonu, kai te ngaro tonu te tohu, kāre tēnei i te tohu pai. Kai te mohio koe te taima i mate ai a Mum, nē? Arā mātau i Tōrere, māua, māua ko te fulla Harold Drake. "E tā, Harold, kaua." Awhina te katakata mai I tua mai i Tōrere i rō manuka nei na, yeah. And i te kōrero tāna ki a Mum, you know, "Tukuna." Kāre i tino pai ki a rātau. Hika, not long, ka mate te old lady. Mmm. Tēnā tohu tēnā ... I never forget that(?)
(Yes, perhaps that thing, the lizard, we've lost its meaning, for this was not a portent of good. You recall the time Mum died, eh? There we were at Tōrere, Harold Drake and I. "E tā, Harold, don't [do that to the lizard]." I was laughing with him. [This was] on the other side of Tōrere in this manuka grove, yeah. And he was talking to Mum, you know, [and she said,] "Let it go." They did not like it. Well, not long after the old lady died. Mmm. That's that ... I never forget that.(?)
Tom: Nē? Ināianei he tohu tēnā ki a tātau i te Māori, nē? (Eh? Nowadays, that's a sign to us Maori, eh?)
Miki: Oh yes. It happened to me on the boat [i.e. Aquitania troopship in May 1940]. (Tom: Go on.) I was having a rest, rest period at that time. I was looking through the port hole and a bloody bird swoosh, flew past me into the [room]... buggar he rūrū (it was an owl).
Tom: Nē? he rūrū? (Eh? An owl?) Go on.
Miki: Bloody kaitiaki (spiritual guardians) was there all around.
John: Engari, he tohu pai wēnā. (However those are good omens.)
Miki: After awhile I felt nice, safe, gee, I felt good.
Tom: Oh yeah. Ka pai..
John: Ko Percy tonu pea tētahi o koutou i mate i runga i te pōti rānei. A Percy Goldsmith rā? (Was Percy one of those who died on the boat? Percy Goldsmith.)
Miki: A, i mate rā ia i te wāpu rā (Yes, he died at that wharf). [i.e. Port of Piraeus, Athens on 24 April 1941.] Oh poor bugger, koia te mea ka mate (he was the one who was killed). Tīhore mai nga [whēkau], (his [intestines] were laid bare) opened up). Koia te karanga mai a ia (That's when he called to me), "brother I'm buggered, shoot me"
John: Ko wai tēnā? (Who is that?)
Miki: Ko Percy (Percy said), "Come on shoot me". (Tom: Go on, eh). And another Pommie boy came crawling up. All his hands were shattered and half of his face here was taken off. And I thought, well, if I have to shoot you, I have to shoot him too. I don't want two on my hands. It's a thing that, well I thought at that time, if I shoot him it will stay here for the rest of my life. Even now and again I hear that, i a ia e karanga ana (him calling to me), ‘Brother, brother, shoot me!'
Tom: Still haunts you now, eh? Comes back to you.
John: Tangi Ehau told me everything about that, you know that when they got bombed. Oh yeah, it must've been bad.
Miki: So I turned away from him and I could hear him, "You gutless bastard."
Tom: Go on eh, that's what he said to you?
John: Kua mohio aia, kua mutu kē, eh? (He must have known he was finished, eh?) Must've been.
Tom: And he died. Was the whole stomach here blown out?
Miki: Koirā, i a ia e kōrero nei. (That's what he said.) Now and again when I think of him, I still see it.
John: You never forget those things, eh? Once you see them, they're always there.
Miki: Yeah, koirā te mea mai (that's what he said), "You gutless bastard"
John: Koirā i kōrero nei a Tangi ki ahau, Tangi Ehau, koia hoki tētahi. Kāhia hoki te pōti
(That's what Tangi told me, Tangi Ehau, he was one of them. The boat was on fire).
Tom: Mmm. Ka mau te wehi Mick, ka mau rā te wehi, nē rā? (Too much Mick, too much, eh?)
Miki: He's the one I always think of, you know now and again, i hurihuri haere [ngā whakaaro] (when your mind wanders), always thinking, I'll never forget.
John: Kua koa toa, ki atu koe tērā te ahua. (?)
Tom: Ok, i whea tēnā (Where was that)?
Miki: At Athens, the Port of Athens,
Tom: Athens, oh yeah.
The portions of the transcript with (?) after the text were difficult to transcribe or translate. If any user is able to determine what is being said, please contact us at [email protected]
Read more about the Hellas, which was bombed at the Port of Piraeus, Athens.
This excerpt has been reproduced with the permission of Sonia Clarke daughter of Miki Harrison.