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Māori First World War book promises to wow readers

News: 3 April 2019

The much-awaited book Whitiki! Whiti! Whiti! E!: Maori in the First World War will be released through bookshops nationwide in June following its launch at Auckland War Memorial Museum on Wednesday 5 June.

Front cover of Monty Soutar's Whitiki! Whiti! Whiti! E!: Maori in the First World War.

Whitiki! is part of a series on New Zealand and the First World War produced jointly by Manatū Taonga / The Ministry for Culture & Heritage, Massey University and the New Zealand Defence Force, and explores the impact of the war on New Zealand society during and after the war. Leading New Zealand historians have been working on the series since 2011, and Whitiki! is the largest in the series and one of the last of the books to be completed.

From a population of 50,000, more than 2200 Māori served in the First World War; more than 330 of them died. They served in the Middle East, Malta, Gallipoli, France, Belgium and England between 1914 and 1919, mainly in the Māori Contingent and its successors, the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion and the New Zealand Māori (Pioneer) Battalion. Other Māori refused to serve, even after conscription was applied to their districts. This book tells all of their stories in detail for the first time.

In Whitiki! Whiti! Whiti! E! life in 1914 is explored before chronological chapters follow the soldiers overseas. Unit structure, training, trench warfare and the role of the soldier in and out of the front line are explained. Keeping a unit drawn from a small population at full strength in the field was difficult, and the political and historical issues that arose because of a lack of reinforcements are included. The soldiers’ homecoming, repatriation and life after the war are considered in the final chapter.

The Pioneer Battalion included Pakeha and Pacific Islanders—mostly Cook Islanders, Niueans, and a handful of Tongans, Fijians, Samoans and Gilbert and Ellice Islanders. The book also looks briefly at their contribution.

The semi-official history of Māori in the First World War was published in 1926. Another book on the subject was produced in 1993. Whitiki! is the first by a Māori author and reflects an era in which Māori perspectives are informing discourse about New Zealand’s history. Whitiki! has been painstakingly researched and features listings of more than 1000 casualties, and several hundred portraits of soldiers.

Readers are expecting a book that does justice to the Māori story in the First World War and Monty Soutar says not only will they be pleased, but they will also be surprised so much information and so many images could be gathered a century after this war.

“It has been exhausting and I owe a debt of gratitude to a great number of people who contributed their time or made available photographs, letters, and diaries belonging to their grandparents and other relatives,” he says.

08 April update -   Second book launch and parade in Gisborne on 08 June

To commemorate the centenary of the Hui Aroha and the Wi Pere monument, and in conjunction with the launch of the book Whitiki: Maori in the First World War, the Nga Taonga a Nga Tama Toa Trust is organising a parade, the central feature of which will be a 100-man guard of dressed in First World War-period uniforms (one soldier for each year since the end of the war). The parade will commence at Heipipi Park at 12 midday on Saturday 8 June and follow the route that the Maori (Pioneer) Battalion took through Gisborne in 1919, ending at Te Poho-o-Rawiri Marae. Sir Peter Jackson & Wingnut Films Ltd is supplying the 100 uniforms for the guard.

For those interested in being part of the guard, there will be a training weekend on 3–5 May (commencing Friday evening).  The guard will be required to form up again on Friday 7 June to receive uniforms and final training before the parade the following day. The trust invites volunteers to register for the guard by providing name and your contact details to the Ngā Taonga a Ngā Tama Toa Trust Facebook page.

Updated on 10th June 2019