The author of a book that will capture the battle experience of the 28th Māori Battalion’s B-Company is calling for family descendants and relatives to help locate up to 400 photos of the 900 men who made up the company.
The author, Sir Wira Gardiner – a military historian and retired Lieutenant-Colonel – says the book will capture the virtues and bravery of the men with a particular emphasis on telling the story from soldiers’ perspectives.
“Those returning spoke very little of their experiences. This book captures what we have and makes it accessible.”
The men came mainly from the eastern and central Bay of Plenty, and also from the Coromandel and Waikato.
They were predominantly from tribes with connections to the Mātaatua people including the Tauranga Moana tribes; the Te Arawa people including the Tūwharetoa tribe; the Hauraki tribes and the Tainui tribes.
The book will therefore be a locally-focused history of the people of one company, B-Company. Sir Wira has completed the first draft of the book. He has a complete list of all the names of the Company but access to photos of only 500 of the 900 men. He would like to publish a full list of names and photos at the end of the book.
Sir Wira has been engaged by Ministry for Culture and Heritage in partnership with a trust, B Company History Trust, chaired by Graeme Vercoe, a District Manager and Registrar of the Māori Land Court and retired Lieutenant-Colonel. Graeme Vercoe says Sir Wira has done “an amazing job” with the writing and shaping of the men’s stories.
“Their stories are told from a Māori perspective and will help inform the education curriculum in the years ahead. The book is unique and relatives will have the benefit of this book for years to come.”
Robert Gillies, the last surviving veteran of the 28th Māori Battalion’s B Company. Pictured here at the official events marking the closure of the 28th Maori Battalion Association in 2012. Mr Gillies enlisted aged 17 and embarked for war on 1 July 1943 with the 10th Reinforcements. He served with the Battalion in Italy. Photographer credit: Michael Bradley Photography.
There is now only one surviving member of the B-Company of the 28th Māori Battalion, Robert (Bom) Gillies who is 93.
Graeme Vercoe says Mr Gillies has been a guide for the book. “All of his comrades have packed their tents. He’s the one left standing – he’s their voice.
“The book should have been written 30 years ago while he still had his mates to share their stories. There’s been other efforts to pull a book together but this time with the help of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Ministry of Education, Rotorua Museum and Ngarimu Scholarship Board, we’re going to get there.”
The book is the first of three planned fellowships managed by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and funded by the Ministry of Education and the Ngarimu VC and 28th (Māori) Battalion Memorial Scholarship Fund Board. The projects will focus on the Battalion’s regional A, B and D Companies. They will complement the history of C Company – Monty Soutar’s Nga Tama Toa – which was published with Ministry for Culture and Heritage support in 2008.
The 28th Māori Battalion was an infantry battalion of the New Zealand Army that served during the Second World War in the Greek, North African and Italian campaigns. It earned a formidable reputation as a fighting force and was the most-decorated New Zealand battalion during the war.
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Updated on 16th June 2017