In 1939 New Zealand answered the call to arms and many Māori enlisted. In response to Sir Āpirana Ngata‘s request for a Māori Battalion, the 28th Māori Battalion was formed. It was to be a front line infantry unit made up of volunteers.
For these men, it was a baptism of fire in the Mediterranean. They saw action first in Greece, then Crete, where they were outnumbered by the Germans. The Battalion then spent time regrouping and retraining in Egypt. In November 1941 the New Zealand Division moved west into Libya to take part in Operation Crusader, the British Army’s push to lift the siege of Tobruk. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to fight Rommel’s Afrika Corps in the desert. However, on 13 May 1943 the war in the desert ended, leading to the surrender of 238,000 German and Italian troops.
In October 1943 the Māori Battalion arrived in Italy. The mud and snow, mountains and rivers were a sharp contrast to the hot arid desert of North Africa.
The Battalion’s main target was Monte Cassino: a mount some 130 kms south-east of Rome, with a Benedictine monastery at the top. The allies had several attempts at capturing Cassino and the Māori Battalion suffered heavy losses, with 128 out of 200 men killed, wounded or captured. At the end of the war in Europe, it took more than seven months to bring the Māori Battalion home.
When I started writing this blog post, my colleague Dianne hunted out some fantastic books in our collection for me. I also found this useful link which may help you answer my question: was your grandfather in the Māori Battalion?
If so, or if on Anzac Day you are commemorating the sacrifices of a relative or friend who was or is a war veteran, please do share your memories with us – we’d love to read them.
P.S. Don’t forget also to check out the fantastic Anzac Day display at Shirley Library.