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Search continues for First World War Māori soldiers’ photographs

Do you recognise the only unidentified man in this group of Māori soldiers from the First World War?

Since calling on New Zealanders to share their photos of Māori soldiers, Dr Monty Soutar Senior Māori Historian, Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage, has been inundated.

“To date I’ve received more than 300 photographs of both Māori and Cook Island Māori soldiers for likely inclusion in a book about the Māori contribution to the First World War,” says Dr Soutar.

“My task has been made a little easier, as some iwi organisations have been collecting photographs in recent years due to the national attention on the First World War Centenary Programme.

“For example, Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa has so far collected more than 30 individual portraits which equates to approximately one-third of their soldiers.”

In his search for images, Dr Soutar came across the photograph of Ngāti Awa men in the Māori Contingent. It was taken in Wellington on 13 February 1915, the day before the contingent sailed for Egypt.

The studio photograph, which was brought to his attention by relatives at Wairaka Marae in Whakatane, came from the Whakatane Museum.

“All but one of the men are named, and I’m hoping someone will be able to identify the mystery man, standing on the far left,” Dr Soutar says.

“It’s likely that he, like the other civilian, Dick Doherty (pictured back row, far right), ended up overseas with later reinforcements.”

The identity of David Merito (middle row, far right) is also uncertain, as his military record states he enlisted with the Auckland Mounted Rifles on 12 February 1915, the day before this photograph was taken. However, he did not embark with the contingent, which departed on 14 February 1915. Instead, it appears he remained in New Zealand to train until he was able to transfer to the Second Māori Contingent.

The photograph was included in images displayed last year at an exhibition mounted by Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa, to showcase photos, stories and the genealogies of First World War soldiers from Ngāti Awa, in the Whakatane district.

Noti Belshaw, Manager for Research and Archives at Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa says a whakapapa wall showing descent lines of the soldiers was a huge success.

“Many people found out for the first time about their own whakapapa and that they had relations who served during the War,” Noti Belshaw says.

Dr Soutar hopes that the identity of the man will be discovered in time for the 2017 publication of his book Whitiki: Māori in the First World War.

He also hopes to include more photos, since some 2,500 Māori and Pacific Island people served overseas. Dr Soutar wants to publish as many of their images in the book as can be found.

Images and information can be sent to the 28th Māori Battalion website:, which now has a First World War section with the Battalion roll included, or directly to Dr Soutar via email:

People with suitable photos are asked to scan them at a minimum of 300 dpi and provide details of the serviceman, including where they are from, before 30 October this year.

Whitiki: Māori in the First World War is one in a series of books on New Zealand and World War One being jointly produced by Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Massey University, the New Zealand Defence Force and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association.

Back Row (from left): UNIDENTIFIED; Haimona HIRINI; Paora Mohi HIRINI (aka S HIRINI); Abraham DOHERTY (aka Aperahama TERI or Dick DOHERTY)

Middle Row: Hamiora TUNOA (aka Snowy LAWSON or Hamiora ROIHANA); Topia MERITO; thought to be David MERITO (aka Rawiri MERITO)

Front Row:  Pareiha TUATI (aka David Apanui STEWART); Romana RATIMA; George SIMPSON (aka Niao HIMIONA)

Image credit: Whakatane Museum.

Click here for a larger version of this image.

Media contact:

Dr Monty Soutar

Senior Māori Historian

Manatū Taonga, Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Phone 027 5100 234



For more information regarding Ngāti Awa photos, please contact:


Noti Belshaw

Manager for Research and Archives

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa

Phone 027 4178444



Updated on 31st October 2016