In the New Zealand Herald, Kurt Bayer recounts the story of New Zealand’s Maori contribution to the allied forces in World War 1:
The fierce Maori haka has put the fear of God into opposing international rugby teams for decades.
A century ago, however, when the bloodcurdling war cry rang out across the dusty, sloping battlefields of Gallipoli, it was not done in the name of sport: the Maori Contingent were coming to kill the Turkish defenders.
While the doomed World War I escapade needlessly cost tens of thousands of lives, Gallipoli helped forge the early identity of the Maori in fledgling New Zealand.
It secured their reputation as fierce fighters and loyal New Zealanders, and put them on an equal footing with their Pakeha brothers for the first time.
But when New Zealand joined Britain to declare war on Germany on August 5, 1914, the enthusiasm of many Maori to sign up was mixed.
Some opposed fighting for a Crown that had dispossessed them of land in the 19th century.
Other Maori were, like thousands of other young New Zealanders, keen to answer the call for King and Country, as well as the prospect of an adventure and to be “home by Christmas”.
However, Imperial policy initially opposed the idea of native peoples fighting in a war among Europeans.
Historian Matthew Wright wrote in Shattered Glory: The New Zealand Experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front that many Maori believed that contributing to the war effort might improve their position in what was then an effectively segregated society.
“The idea gained ground among iwi [tribes] and was pushed in Parliament during September by Maui Pomare, James Carroll, Apirana Ngata and Te Rangi Hiroa [Peter Buck]. [William] Massey’s Government had not envisaged a Maori contingent but bent to the pressure and – somewhat grudgingly – allowed a small force to be assembled.”
Military historian Dr Christopher Pugsley told the Herald that opposition to a Maori Contingent, as opposed to individual Maori serving in the ranks, came from the British Government and not New Zealand.
Update: Somehow managed to get the newspaper’s name wrong and forgot to hat-tip Roger Henry for the link.