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Pioneer Battalion WW1

When WW1 broke out Māori response was varied.  Some thought it a white man’s war half a world away and of no concern of theirs.  Others opposed fighting for a crown that had confiscated so much of their land.After all, The Land Wars were still within living memory at the time.  Recruitment from Taranaki and Maniopoto was low and almost nil from Waikato.

Some were keen to enlist, especially from Ngapuhi and Te Arawa.  Initially government policy was opposed to native peoples fighting in a war against Europeans but as casualties mounted and the need for re-inforcements grew this policy softened and the New Zealand Māori Pioneer Battalion came into being in 1917.  It had combat roles in Gallipoli and the Western Front.  By the end of the war 2227 had served.  Of these 336 died on active service and 734 were wounded.  Apart from these statistics it should be noted that Māori enlisted and died in other units of the army.Also, it must not be forgotten that many Pacific Islanders enlisted in the Pioneer Battalion, were wounded or became casualties.

When considering these statistics it is noteworthy that the total population of New Zealand at the outbreak of WW1 was just a little over a million and of these only 50,000 were Māori.

Here are some ways to discover if any of your whanau were members of the Pioneer Battalion andthen to discover more about them and their service in WW1.

NZSG Publications
Kiwi Index.  This database on a memory stick is useful as it gives details of where to find further information about the person.

New Zealand WW 1 Service Personnel & Reserve Index.  This CD will give you at least the last known address and occupation of the individual.  Most importantly it gives the regimental number which makes searching other resources so much easier.  There could well be more than one person with the same name: they can be distinguished by their unique regimental number.

If you are a member of NZSG contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.for a free look-up in these resources

Searching on line
Below are listed some websites where you can search for details of members of the Māori Pioneer Battalion.  For each do a Google search for the title in the paragraph header.  All offer free access.

28th Maori Battalion
Under Battalion Roll you can find the names and details of the 2,700 men who served in the Pioneer Battalion.
Do a name search.  You can also add information about any of these soldiers to the database.

Auckland War Memorial Museum.  Online Cenotaph
Here you can do a person search.  If you enter only Maori Pioneer Battalion in the keyword search you will see 750 soldiers listed.  Most have photographs and some have detailed biographical notes eg service records, medical notes, next of kin, medals awarded.  You can lay a poppy for an individual or contribute information to the database.

If you click on Read more under the photograph you will find his biographical and service records.
This told me he was the son of Matira and WaikerapuruRameka.  He was born in Ohaeawai.  He died of disease at sea enroute to NZ from France.  There are four more photographs.  Full references are given so you can go check the original records.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Here you can do a name search.  Alternatively, just enter New Zealand Maori as the regiment.  There are 65
names of casualties listed.  Below is a screen shot of four names.

Click on Download Results and you will get more information eg next of kin, address on enlistment and where served eg Western Front.

New Zealand History
This website has much information about the Pioneer Battalion and is well worth exploring.  Of particular interest is the Memorials Register.  This lists NZ war memorials and provides photographs of memorials with names clearly legible.

You may find an obituary here or a report of war casualties.  Check the Māori Newspapers on this website.

Archives New Zealand Archway
They hold personnel files of many New Zealand soldiers.  Most contain physical description, next of kin, war service,medical notes, medals awarded.

Other sources you may wish to explore include:

·         Marae records of your person’s marae.  The book Takoa, published annually, contains contact details for marae.

·         Local museum in the area where your person lived.

·         Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on line.

·         Find My Past and   You will need to pay to access their records unless they are available at your local library.  Ancestry has theNZ Army WW1 Nominal Rolls on line.

If you don’t find your person go back to the indexes listed in a few weeks.  More information is frequently added, mainly as a result of members of the public making contributions.

Finally, if you know of any other resources please let me know.  These can be included in the next issue of Te Reo and on the Māori Interest Group website and thus help members in their whakapapa research.  Similarly, if you have discovered something of interest in your research of the Pioneer Battalion let me know because this will be of help to our members.

Brenda JOYCE
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