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Hui Aroha for Maori Pioneer Battalion recalled 100 years on

Media release: 29 May 2019

An Honour Guard of 100 men will march through Gisborne on 8 June to mark the century since the Hui Aroha was held there to welcome home Maori Pioneer Battalion soldiers from the First World War, Neill Atkinson Chief Historian Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage said today.

Maori Pioneer Battalion soldiers parade along Gladstone Road, Gisborne. Photograph courtesy of the Tairawhiti Museum, Gisborne.

“The men, one soldier for each year since the end of the war, will be wearing First World War period uniforms and will sing songs from the war era as they march ending with a haka,” Neill Atkinson said.

“The parade echoes the Hui Aroha when shops and businesses closed for half a day and the population almost doubled as visitors from all over the lower North Island converged on the town.

“The original intent of the hui was to promote a Maori Soldiers’ Fund for returning soldiers and unveil a memorial to the late Hon Wi Pere who had a key part in recruiting the First Maori Contingent for overseas service in 1914. 

“Wi Pere named the contingent Te Hokowhitu-a-Tu. Planning for the hui began in mid-1918, but then the war ended so it doubled as a welcome home to the Battalion.

“The welcome home at the Gisborne Racecourse was a hugely moving event lasting two days. The hui raised £29,294 and provided seed funding for what became the Maori Soldiers’ Trust Fund. In today’s terms this is the equivalent of $3 million dollars,” Neill Atkinson said. 

Whitiki: Maori in the First World War

The full story of the Hui Aroha is detailed in a new publication by Dr Monty Soutar Whitiki: Maori in the First World War. The book will be launched on 5 June in Auckland and on 8 June in Gisborne.

Whitiki! is part of the First World War Centenary History Programme, a partnership between Manatū Taonga, Massey University and the New Zealand Defence Force. The book is the tenth print publication produced as part of this series, and the fifth produced by Manatū Taonga.

Hui Aroha Background

Close to 300 soldiers from all over the eastern North Island disembarked at Gisborne. They were accompanied by the Minister of Defence Sir James Allen, who was also the Acting-Prime Minister at the time. When the SS Westmoreland carrying the 1000-strong Pioneer Battalion was steaming towards New Zealand the Mayor of Auckland, Sir James Gunson, lobbied for the ship to disembark the men in Auckland instead of Gisborne.  Allen was persuaded and despite protests the first welcome occurred at the Auckland Domain before the troops were dispersed to their home districts.

Allen had arranged another ship to take him and those pioneers from the Eastern seaboard to the Hui Aroha.

Wellingtonians who were present included an ethnological team from the National (Dominion) Museum and the Alexander Turnbull Library (Elsdon Best, James McDonald and Johannes Andersen). They filmed, photographed and recorded the hui on dictaphone records.

Tuatea arrives Gisborne wharf 1919 carrying members of the Maori Pioneer Battalion. Photograph courtesy of the Tairawhiti Museum, Gisborne.

The 8 June Parade

The parade, a rare spectacle and on a scale probably never to be seen again in Gisborne, also marks the end of the First World War Centenary period which began in 2014.

Beginning from Te Poho-o-Rawiri Marae at 11.15 am on Saturday 8 June the parade will follow part of the route the Maori Pioneer Battalion took through Gisborne in 1919, ending at Kelvin Park in Stout Street for the book launch.

More than one thousand people are expected to view the parade. Special guests include the Minister of Defence Hon Ron Mark, Sir Peter Jackson and Pine Ratapu one of the two surviving veterans of the 28th Maori Battalion.

Poi performed at Gisborne Racecourse 1919. Photograph courtesy of the Tairawhiti Museum, Gisborne.


Updated on 18th May 2021