Dr Monty Soutar’s research into Māori in the First World War has unearthed some great finds.
Published: Rāhina, 29 Pipiri, 2015 | Monday, 29 June 2015
“The centenary of World War One has got people pulling out family records on Grandad’s or Great-uncle’s war service,” says Soutar. “I have received copies of photos, diaries and letters belonging to Māori soldiers that I didn’t think would still be around after 100 years,” he says.
Dr Soutar, who is with the Ministry for Culture and Heritage – Manatū Taonga, is writing a book about Māori in the First World War as part of a series of authoritative and accessible print histories on New Zealand and the First World War that will be published during the centenary of the war (2014-2019). The books are being produced jointly by Manatū Taonga – Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Massey University, the New Zealand Defence Force and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association (RSA). The works in the Centenary History Programme cover the major campaigns in Europe and the Middle East, New Zealanders’ contributions in the air and at sea, the experiences of soldiers at the front and civilians at home, the Māori war effort, and the war’s impact and legacy.
One item that has recently come to light is this photo of the officers of the Second Māori Contingent. It was part of Reweti Kohere’s collection now kept in pristine condition by his grandson, Rei Kohere, at remote Rangiata, East Cape. Reweti’s younger brother, 2/Lt Henare Mokena Kohere is in the back row far left. “We have the names of all the officers but only some names have been matched with the officers in the photograph,” says Soutar.
“Kohere’s cousin Pekama Kaa is on the far right of the back row. In the front row the officer with the moustache is Major Henry Peacock. He was in charge of Narrow Neck Camp. The chaplain to the right of Peacock is Archdeacon Hector Hawkins. The names of the others are Capt. Stanley Rice, Capt. John Donald Duncan, Lt Lionel Ashton, 2/Lt Hori McGregor, 2/Lt John Irvine O’Neil, 2/Lt Kepa Hamuera Ehau, 2/Lt Harry Dansey, 2/Lt John Henry Hall and 2/Lt George Arthur Bush who was a Boer War veteran.” Soutar is hoping whānau will be able to identify which is their tipuna or relative.
The original Māori Contingent had trained at Avondale Racecourse and it sailed for Egypt in February 1915. The first draft of volunteers invited to reinforce that unit were known as the 2nd Māori Contingent. They began entering the new training camp near Devonport from 1 July 1915 but it was a full six weeks before the 330 or so volunteers were all together. A measles outbreak and insufficient completed huts for accommodation meant batches of men had to be kept back in their regions until the camp was fully ready.
The Second Contingent embarked in September 1915 while the First Māori Contingent was fighting at Gallipoli. It is likely the photograph was taken at this time. The two contingents eventually came together in Egypt and, as part of the NZ Pioneer Battalion, they were transferred to the Western Front in France. It was during the battle of the Somme that Henare Kohere, by then a full lieutenant, was mortally wounded in action, one year after this photo was taken.
If you can put a name to the missing officers please contact Dr Soutar at email@example.com or call 027 510 0234.
Soutar welcomes any information on Māori in the First World War or Pākehā who served in the Māori Pioneer Battalion ―especially diaries, letters and photos.