28 (Maori) Battalion
CHAPTER 1 — Formation and Departure
Formation and Departure
Haere ra E Tama, kia tupato, kia whakaaro nui ki Te Matua i te Rangi.∗
The second war with Germany in the twentieth century did not come like a thunderbolt but rather with the inevitability of gradualness—crisis after crisis, appeasement after appeasement, and an exultant Hitler announcing with appropriate stage management that this demand, that démarche, would be positively the last. Finally came the German attack on Poland and the consequent declaration by England and France that a state of war existed with Germany.
Months before the historic 3 September 1939, Sir Apirana Ngata, a foremost Maori personality of this time, foreseeing that there must be a second recourse to arms, advocated the formation of a Maori military unit following the precedent of the Maori Pioneer Battalion of 1914–18; Ngata was jealous that his race be not submerged in a New Zealand at war any more than it had been submerged in a New Zealand at peace.
Even before the New Zealand Government had authorised the raising of an expeditionary force, two Maori members of Parliament, Messrs E. T. Tirikatene (Southern Maori) and P. K. Paikea (Northern Maori), made public demand that their race be represented in any force that might be formed. Their lead was followed by organisations and individuals throughout Maoridom.
The Government did not decide immediately to add another unit to the division it was proposing to raise, particularly as the demand was that the Maori force, whatever its constitution and size, be composed entirely of Maoris. Something more than lip service had been given in New Zealand to the concept that the Maori people were, economically as well as politically, entirely equal to the pakeha, but there were hesitations about a completely Maori military unit. On 4 October the Government announced its decision to embody an infantry battalion recruited from the Maori race for service as combatant troops within or beyond New Zealand, but it reserved the right to page 2 appoint European officers and non-commissioned officers to key positions. The policy, however, would be to replace the Europeans as soon as possible.
Objections to the reservation were immediate and widespread. The necessity for a pakeha commander was conceded, but in the Maori view there was no need whatever for pakeha company commanders or NCOs when there were Pioneer Battalion veterans from the First World War, Territorials, young men with college and university training, as well as others of outstanding ability to choose from.
The objection to pakeha direction was not so much antipakeha as pro-Maori and the manifestation of the urge in all self-respecting peoples not to accept an inference of racial inferiority; this was particularly so in regard to warlike activities, for in Maori history there had been only one generation—the one born after 1870—that could not speak of war from first-hand experience.
Arawa and Ngatiporou were particularly emphatic in their protests and asked for an immediate pronouncement that the Maori Battalion would be officered entirely by Maoris. The Government's reply reiterated that key positions would at first be filled by specially selected Europeans.
Implementing this decision, the Director of Mobilisation announced that command of the battalion had been given to Major G. Dittmer, MBE, MC, NZSC,1 and that Lieutenant-Colonel G. F. Bertrand2 of the Reserve of Officers, the Taranaki Regiment, who was of part-Maori blood, would be second-in-command with the rank of major. Both had served overseas in the First World War; Dittmer was a regular soldier with the reputation of being a firm disciplinarian.
Army area officers were advised that a small number of European officers would be required for appointment to the Maori Battalion, and were asked to forward the names of any who were willing to serve and who were considered suitable; full particulars were also required of any Maori officers or page 3 ex-officers who volunteered and were passed medically fit, likewise the names of any Maori recruits considered suitable for training as commissioned or non-commissioned officers. Dittmer was at the same time instructed to visit mobilisation camps and select prospective officers and NCOs from the Maoris serving in First Echelon units, and to offer to the others the choice of remaining where they were or of transferring to the Maori Battalion. It was never intended that Maoris should not serve in other units, as they did, but rather that the Maori Battalion should be reserved for Maoris only.
To produce the battalion requirements of officers and NCOs 146 trainees reported to Army School, Trentham, at the end of November and were followed by replacements as Major Dittmer, in command of the group, weeded out the less promising material.
Included in the draft were six officers of the Maori Pioneer Battalion whose experience of active service could be expected to promote confidence in the younger men. Amongst the others were few who had had any previous military training. The conditions upon which they entered camp were that all officers, with the exception of the CO and second-in-command, were regarded as student officers, and the balance as student NCOs with the prospect of approximately twenty being recommended for commissions at the termination of the course.
Within a fortnight of assembling a request was made by Sir Apirana Ngata that a guard of honour one hundred strong be made available for the opening of the Maori court at the Centennial Exhibition. The request was approved by Army Department though many were dubious as to the ability of the Maoris to supply a ceremonial guard in so short a time. But they underestimated the capacity of the trainees. Major McCulloch,3 Chief Instructor at Army School and known to every student who entered its gates as ‘the Screaming Skull’, made the affair a personal matter and the resultant guard of honour commanded by Captain Rangi Royal4 would not have disgraced any fully-trained unit. It was a particularly meritorious performance because members of the guard had also to keep abreast of the syllabus for the course and only a small number page 4 of periods set aside for drill, rifle exercises, and ceremonial drill were devoted to special training of the guard of honour. During the ceremonies at the Maori court Sir Apirana presented the battalion officers with carved drill sticks.
In addition to the military pageantry there was also a haka party, led by Private Anania Amohau,5 which carried out the traditional welcoming dances and added a Maori atmosphere to the occasion. Private Amohau had provided the Maori Battalion with its famous marching song before there was a battalion, and this is how it came about.
With the approach of 1940, the centennial year of the Treaty of Waitangi, with all its implications for the Maori people, New Zealand-wide celebrations were being planned for the opening of meeting houses and the unveiling of monuments. The Arawa Services League was already training a guard of honour, known as the Arawa Maori Contingent and composed of young men of Rotorua with a sprinkling of returned soldiers. They practised under the eye of Captain Royal after their daily work and Private Amohau found the theme of a song running through his head. Words and music gradually took shape; first he whistled it, then he sang it; Captain Royal had some copies typed and soon the Arawa Maori Contingent was singing its own marching song. Rotorua provided its quota of trainees and the men found that their song, now called ‘Maori Battalion’, had preceded them to Trentham. Lieutenant Pike,6 bandmaster of the Trentham Camp Band, arranged the music for a military band and the marching song of the Maori Battalion swept the country.
Recruiting for the battalion opened in the second week of October and by the end of the month had resulted in nearly nine hundred enlistments. Enlistment was voluntary and remained so all through the war—an achievement probably unequalled by any race or people drawn into the conflict. Maori recruiting officers were appointed to districts with a Maori population and, working in close co-operation with tribal authorities, saw to it that the battalion was never short of replacements.
At first, volunteers were required to be single and between the ages of 21 and 35, but the opportunity to enlist was later extended to married men with not more than two children within the same age group. It was decided that the battalion page 5 should assemble at the Palmerston North Show Grounds on 26 January 1940, and the Army School trainees moved in two days earlier to prepare the camp.
The drafts arrived at Palmerston North throughout the day, accompanied in some cases by their chiefs and tribal elders and in others by companions and relatives who had, characteristically, come along without enlistment authority. They could not understand why their friendly co-operation was frowned upon and why they were not regarded as ipso facto members of the battalion. In addition, many of the volunteers were under age.
Major Dittmer was at the station to meet the first draft and it would be interesting to know what he thought when he saw his first recruits. Many had ukeleles, accordions and banjos, and nearly all were dressed in the bright colours of their Sunday best. It is said that the Major went a little pale.
The battalion was to be organised on a tribal basis, and to this end men from North Auckland (the Ngapuhi and subtribes) were marched into A Company lines; B Company received the men from Rotorua, Bay of Plenty, Taupo, and the Thames-Coromandel areas, mostly from the Arawa confederation and Tuhoe tribes; C Company comprised the tribes of the East Coast from south of Gisborne to the East Cape, Ngatiporou, Rongowhakaata, and sub-tribes; D Company, unlike the others, which were from compact areas with a closely-knit tribal organisation, extended from the Waikato-Maniapoto confederation area south of Auckland and included the Taranaki tribes, the Ngati Kahungunu of Hawke's Bay-Wairarapa, the Wellington Province, the whole of the South Island, the Chathams and Stewart Island, and odd men from the Pacific Islands. Headquarters Company, when formed, was also composite but was drawn chiefly from the surplus of A, B, and C Companies.
The chief appointments in the battalion at this stage were:
CO: Major Dittmer, MBE, MC
Second-in-Command: Major Bertrand
Adjutant: Lieutenant D. Curtis, NZSC
Quartermaster: Captain G. H. Weir
Medical Officer: Major W. B. Fisher
RSM: WO I A. C. Wood
RQMS: WO II G. L. Burke.
From the outset Dittmer, promoted lieutenant-colonel on 29 January, insisted on strict discipline for both officers and men, and any inclination to treat the camp as a holiday resort was instantly repressed. The CO's influence remained with the battalion long after his return to New Zealand in February 1942 as a result of wounds suffered in the Second Libyan Campaign.
Training began immediately the preliminaries of marching in, the issue of clothing, and the organisation of platoons were completed. The raw material of the battalion was very malleable and very inexperienced; even the long train journey was to a large number something of an event, but they brought with them a philosophical outlook and a carefree cheerfulness. Events were to show that this typical Polynesian disposition seldom failed the Maori soldier. One advantage the Maoris had over the pakeha trainees was that, living in close proximity to their fellows in their own communities and being used to sharing amenities, they did not have to become accustomed to camp life.
The battalion command was faced with a multitude of problems arising from the fact that the Maori is predominantly agrarian and that consequently all specialists had to be trained—medical orderlies, mechanics, clerks, drivers, radio technicians, signallers, and other tradesmen necessary in a modern battalion. Incidentally, it was a problem that continued throughout the war and the wonder is that the men were able to obtain enough practical experience to perform their various functions efficiently. Another anxiety was that the unit had entered camp a fortnight after the rest of the Second Echelon and there was a lot of leeway to make up; but this was made good by the keenness of the troops who gave themselves mutual instruction in elementary drill before and after regular parade hours. Training time was also lost through the abnormal amount of work required to make the men dentally fit, and three dental officers were kept fully employed; and, as if that were not enough, the Medical Officer was faced with long queues parading with sore feet—happy-go-lucky recruits who had tried to make Maori feet fit into pakeha boots. A wider-than-usual last was necessary for men who seldom wore boots in youth and, to get the width, boots several sizes too big were issued by the perplexed Quartermaster. This led to further complications. The RSM, inspecting a company before parade, was once stopped in his tracks by the sight of a man with his boots on the wrong feet.page 8
The QM had other worries also for, after fitting out the First and Second Echelons, there was an acute shortage of uniforms. The Maoris had therefore to make the best of the situation and a civilian tailoring firm worked long hours making alterations.
Less important, but symptomatic of the Maori ‘all for one and one for all ’ attitude, was the way the men performed each other's duties and borrowed each other's equipment. The right number of men would parade for a fatigue, but not necessarily the right men if there was something they wanted to do more than attend that particular parade. Serial numbers on equipment were not important, and so long as everyone had a rifle and bayonet why make a fuss over who had which rifle or bayonet? It was the same with clothing. To be charged for shortages discovered in kit inspection when the article was probably being put to good use by somebody else was, in the opinion of the Maori recruit, an erratic pakeha custom.
Training, continually interrupted by dental treatment, medical inspections, and departure of promising material to Army School courses of instruction, the selection of men for specialist platoons and all the other teething troubles of a new unit, was suspended almost entirely within a fortnight of entering camp by the departure of 500 all ranks to the centennial celebrations at Waitangi.
When the question of a special Maori commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi was first mooted, the details of tribal representation at the gathering were discussed with the Government by the Maori members of Parliament. The suggestion was made that, as the Maori Battalion was to assemble at Palmerston North in January 1940, it would be very fitting if the tribal representatives were taken from that body. The Government agreed and the contingent attended the centennial celebrations as members of the Maori Battalion and as representatives of the various tribes from which the battalion was drawn. In the absence of Lieutenant-Colonel Dittmer, who was in hospital suffering from an attack of influenza, Major Bertrand was in command of the contingent.
Four days' valuable training time had been lost, but such was the keenness of the Maori recruits that after a ceremonial parade on 19 February Major-General Duigan,7 Chief of the New Zealand General Staff, told the battalion:page 9
As a man who has had a very long experience in the Army, not far off forty years, I can tell you this: that if I had been informed that in such a short time you would reach such a very high standard in your drill and your movements, I would never have believed it.
The General did not mean to infer that the troops were fully trained but he recognised that they had made a remarkably good beginning. Their proficiency in arms and elementary footdrill was partly a coalescence of observation and practice and partly a natural aptitude developed in their ancestors. In former days the use of patu and taiaha called for the highest degree of muscular and visual co-ordination and entailed a drill not unlike, and probably even more precise, than that demanded by the parade-ground exercises of modern training.
This proficiency was not, of course, spontaneous but was the result of the influence of the Army School of Instruction on the officers and NCO trainees and the insistence on a high standard by Colonel Dittmer and the RSM, ‘Ace’ Wood.8 These two regular soldiers were regarded as the glasses of fashion and the moulds of form, and their every mannerism of voice and deportment was studied and copied by the entire battalion. The progress in weapon training and platoon movement was not of the same order of merit, but route marching held a ready appeal, particularly as there were always spectators in the Palmerston North streets.
By the first week in March the battalion had consolidated and a spirit of rivalry inherent in tribes once intermittently at war was skilfully sublimated into company esprit de corps. The situation was reminiscent of but not so serious as that in the '45 rebellion when Bonnie Prince Charlie led his Highlanders against England and had the greatest trouble in keeping the rival clans from each other's throats.
Important in this connection was the appointment to the battalion of Padre K. Harawira9 and Mr W. R. Taylor, of the YMCA, who adequately met the spiritual and social needs of the troops. Both had had overseas war service and could meet the men on common ground. This was particularly true of Padre Harawira, an old Te Aute College boy, who had been page 10 wounded on Gallipoli and had ultimately returned to New Zealand with the rank of sergeant-major before being ordained in the Church of England. The social engagements actually put a severe strain on the time available. The ‘social activities’ file of the battalion while in Palmerston North contains many letters wherein Colonel Dittmer regrets that he is unable to accept invitations for the troops to attend functions in their honour or in connection with the centenary celebrations then being held throughout New Zealand.
The hospitality extended to the battalion by the citizens of Palmerston North was continuous and cordial and did not stop when the troops left for overseas—gift parcells and small comforts arrived regularly in England, in the African desert, and in Italy. Socially it was the same—concerts were held weekly and pictures frequently.
Formal functions were a ball tendered to the battalion by the mayoress and women of Palmerston North; a combined concert held in the Opera House when the Ngati Poneke Club of Wellington, the Otaki Maori party, and the men of the battalion entertained the citizens of Palmerston North;10 a farewell ball given by the troops on the eve of their departure. Military occasions of note were a parade and inspection by the Governor-General, Viscount Galway, and a ceremonial drill display at a combined air and military pageant at the Milson aerodrome. But perhaps the most impressive was the 1940 Anzac Day march through the streets of Palmerston North and the addresses after forming up in the Square.
The 28th (Maori) Battalion was declared on active service on 13 March and on the same day went on fourteen days' final leave. Five more weeks' training brought the troops to 1 May and embarkation.
Officers who embarked with the battalion were:
CO: Lt-Col G. Dittmer∗
Second-in-Command: Maj G. F. Bertrand
Adjutant: Capt H. D. Harvey∗
QM: Capt G. H. Weir∗
IO: Lt F. Baker
MO: Maj W. B. Fisher∗
Padre: Rev K. Harawira
Signal Platoon: 2 Lt H. M. McDonald
Anti-Aircraft: 2 Lt W. Herewini
Mortars: 2 Lt T. Rangi
Carriers: 2 Lt G. R. Bennett
Pioneers: 2 Lt W. T. Ngata
Transport: 2 Lt F. T. Bennett
OC: Capt R. Royal
2 Lt H. R. Vercoe
2 Lt T. Manahi
2 Lt W. P. Karaka
2 Lt H. Te O. Reedy
2 Lt K. A. Keiha
OC: Maj H. G. Dyer∗
2 Lt H. P. Te Punga
2 Lt A. G. Ormond
2 Lt G. A. Te Kuru
∗ Officers with no Maori blood.
Officers who assisted with the training but who did not leave with the battalion were Captain P. P. Tawhiwi, Lieutenants D. Curtis (NZSC) and H. Te K. Ferris, and Second-Lieutenant Te K. Te H. Karaitiana.
It was almost noon on 1 May when the battalion marched out of its Palmerston North camp for the last time. Not only the citizens but hundreds of the men's friends and relatives lined the route to the railway station, and there were poignant scenes as the troops passed from the open streets for a quick entrainment and departure—followed by a stream of cars—to Wellington. On arrival the train, with shuttered windows and guarded doors, passed on to Aotea Quay, which was then closed against the crowd11 that had gathered there in the hope of a last few words with the troops. Platoon by platoon the men detrained and climbed the high gangway on to the Aquitania page 12 and were led by the advance party to their quarters deep down on ‘F’ deck. Colonel Dittmer had temporarily relinquished command of the battalion to Major Bertrand upon his appointment as OC Troops in the Aquitania. Similarly, Major Dyer,12 appointed ship's quartermaster for the voyage, had relinquished command of D Company to Captain Blomfield.13
Other units embarked during the night and soon after daybreak the Aquitania, with nearly three thousand troops plus a detachment of the RNVR on board, moved out into the stream. The Maori Battalion's last close contact with its own people was the sight of the crowd allowed on the wharf at the last moment, and the sound of the Ngati Poneke girls singing farewell songs as the distance widened between ship and shore.
The troopship did not leave harbour immediately but waited until the rest of the convoy, the Empress of Britain and the Empress of Japan, were ready, and it was during this period that the Governor-General circled the ship in a launch. The Maori Battalion sang its farewell song ‘Po Atarau’14 in reply to the compliment, and soon afterwards the convoy moved down Wellington harbour and out into Cook Strait.
No time was wasted before training began. Platoon and section rolls were compiled and every leader from the newest lance-corporal to OC Company was lectured by Major Bertrand in organisation and administration, words which up till then had had no military significance for the great majority. A company commanders' conference was held each day without exception throughout the voyage and was followed by company and platoon conferences, with the result that at the end of the voyage every officer and most NCOs knew their job and where they fitted in to the complex organization of a modern battalion.
The troopships, guarded by HMAS Australia and HMS Leander, were joined by HMAS Canberra, escorting the Andes with troops from the South Island. The weather was rough for the first two days and the unpleasant novelty of seasickness was added to the list of experiences of most men of the battalion. The poor attendance at the mess tables indicated that all was not well, but before the Sydney heads were sighted on 5 May the majority were taking an interest in the meals and the page 13 canteens. The convoy turned south as soon as the Queen Mary and Mauretania, with an Australian contingent aboard, took station and the following day passed through Bass Strait, where the Empress of Canada from Melbourne was picked up.
Shipboard routine followed much the same pattern throughout the voyage. The day began with reveille at 6 a.m., followed by the first breakfast sitting; a three-hour training period followed; then came lunch and another two periods of training. Evening mess started at 5.30, after which there were frequent concerts, community sings, and other social activities in which the Maoris played no small part. Officially the only gambling permitted was ‘Housie-housie’ to a threepenny limit, but it is suggested—probably not without reason—that of an evening and throughout the ship many strange and illegal cults could be heard reciting a formula which included ‘Heads a pair’ and ‘Two B's on bikes’. The tohunga of these ceremonies was very often a Maori.
Fremantle was reached on 10 May with four thousand miles safely accomplished. Owing to the size of the Aquitania and Queen Mary these two ships had to anchor two miles off shore, and, because of lack of ferries and the weather risk, it appeared likely that there would be no leave for the troops on those transports. Brigadier Hargest,15 commanding the New Zealanders, made urgent representations to the port authorities, and the following day the services of a pleasure steamer, a tug, and a Dutch oil tanker were obtained to transport the troops from the Aquitania to the wharf. Leave was granted until midnight and the men received a rousing welcome from the hospitable Australians. It was so rousing that many, both Maori and European, had difficulty in finding the wharf again, but when the convoy sailed in the morning there were no absentees from the battalion.
Colombo was known to be the next port of call, but during the evening of 15 May when the convoy was near Cocos Islands (the grave of the Emden which fell to the guns of the Sydney in 1914), direction was altered towards the south-west. This started a spate of rumours: there were German raiders in the Indian Ocean; the troops were needed in England to repel a page 14 German landing; Italy was about to declare war and close the Red Sea. In point of fact the last was nearly correct: the destination of the convoy had been under consideration for some time and the Italian attitude was the deciding factor. The troops were still debating their new course a week later when other interests intervened—the appearance of the ship's magazine Te Waka O Tu and the issue of identity discs and field dressings—and these in their turn started a new crop of rumours. By this time the Maoris were heartily sick of looking at two lines of ships ploughing through an endless ocean and were consequently thrilled to see, early on the 26th, the flashes of a lighthouse, followed an hour or so later by the city lights of Capetown. The Maoris were excited but apprehensive about their probable reception in a country where the colour bar is rigidly observed. They had already been told by Major Bertrand that their reception would probably be cool, and that if they were turned out of shops or had any other indignity thrust upon them they were not to make a fuss. It was the custom of the country and the Maoris would have to abide by it. For some time it appeared that the question of the Maoris' reception in Capetown would be entirely academic for the two big ships were again unable to berth, and the sight of the others moving in to the quayside while they anchored off shore was galling in the extreme.
The pakeha units aboard the Aquitania made their displeasure known in no uncertain terms and the words ‘H.M. Prison Ships’ were chalked in sundry places on sides and decks. Arrangements were made to take the troops ashore next day, but the seas were too heavy and the project was cancelled. Early the next morning the two big ships moved to the naval base at Simonstown, and although the pakeha troops were given leave, there was, much to the disgust of the other units, no leave for the Maori Battalion. The Maoris, however, had not been forgotten by their Brigadier, for in view of the restrictions imposed on them Hargest had cabled the New Zealand Government, which had granted a sum of £50 for the transport of the battalion to the city. On the fourth day, therefore, they were permitted ashore and, tight-lipped and nervous, were loaded on buses and taken to Capetown. The men were again warned to be circumspect in their relations with the local native population. They passed through a section of South Africa not unlike New Zealand—hilly, with many trees and well-grassed fields. The familiar wooden houses were missing for all building were page 15 of white-painted stone, and unfamiliar, too, were the miles and miles of grape-vine stumps. On arrival the men were marched to a drill hall where they were served with a light luncheon by the mayoress and ladies of Capetown. In return, the Maoris sang ‘Maori Battalion’ and ‘Po Atarau’.
During the meal the ladies were introduced to the officers and a number of the men. In bidding farewell to Colonel Dittmer they remarked on the splendid physique of the troops, their courteous manners and their delightful singing. Before the convoy left South Africa the CO sent a letter of thanks to the mayoress and a donation of £10 from the battalion for some organisation similar to the New Zealand Plunket Society.
Up to lunch the trip had been a parade, but the troops were then dismissed until the buses were due to return at 2.15 p.m., which left the men with less than an hour to see the city. The troops strolled quietly around and were received in the shops with civil curiosity and in the hotels right royally. Not only were no incidents of any kind reported but all the troops were accounted for when the convoy sailed.
Major Clifton,16 Brigade Major of 5 Brigade, in a brief history of the early days of that brigade, wrote:
After lunch they [the Maoris] went round the shops for a couple of hours, and then returned by bus to Simonstown—none missing, none drunk. Their behaviour and bearing created a great and lasting impression which, I feel sure, will remove the objection to Maoris being included in our Rugby teams for South Africa. I understand the 28 Battalion is the first native regiment ever allowed in Capetown. They were a credit to their people and a marked example for the remainder of our troops.
The convoy left Capetown on the last day of May and headed north into the heavy swells of the South Atlantic. It was generally agreed among the troops that England was their destination, although a body of opinion held that Egypt via Gibraltar and the Mediterranean, where the First Echelon was training at Maadi Camp, was still possible. Italy was bellicose but not as yet belligerent.page 16
Eight hot and clammy days after leaving Capetown, the convoy anchored off shore at Freetown. There was no leave, and nowhere to go if there had been any, and the troops spent most of their spare time dickering with the natives who swarmed round the transports in canoes loaded with fruit. When cash ran out their suggestion, ‘You give'm shirt, I give'm coconut’, seemed a happy solution to the currency problem. Singlets, hats, and deck shoes were also discovered to be good media of exchange, but the ship's officers were not amused to see their blankets being exchanged for shoddy souvenirs and turned hoses on the canoes. They also got the shore authorities to recover the blankets.
The big ships pulled out with the tide in the morning and waited while the others completed loading water and stores. They sailed in the afternoon of 8 June and everybody was glad to breathe again the fresh air of the open seas.
The news that Italy was in the war on the side of Germany was published in the ship's daily news sheet on 10 June. Mussolini had decided to rush to the aid of the victors for the Allied armies were clearly in a bad way. The wireless reports were noncommital, but the beaches of Dunkirk had been black with soldiers waiting for the little ships from England to risk submarine, storm, and air attack and carry them back home.
The only difference Mussolini's decision made to the troops in the convoy was to tighten up the anti-aircraft and submarine precautions. To them the war was still intangible. This sangfroid began to vanish when it was seen that the convoy was no longer moving straight ahead but was changing course every few minutes. The sea was scanned with a new interest and life-jackets assumed a new importance—the word submarine has a different significance when you are on dry land and when you are at sea, particularly so when your sleeping quarters are well below the water-line and you feel that at any moment a torpedo may explode against the ship's side.
The convoy continued on a course between the Canary Islands and the Azores, and on 14 June the naval escort was strengthened by a battle cruiser (HMS Hood), an aircraft carrier, and six destroyers. A feeling of confidence engendered by their presence diminished somewhat the next morning when the Aquitania passed through an area covered in oil, drifting timber, and other wreckage, including a lifeboat—empty. That was only the start of an exciting and frightening day. Just page 17 before lunch the troops saw, in the distance, a ship half submerged and blazing, and that threatening sight was followed by the jangling of submarine alarms. Then the distant thud of exploding depth-charges was heard. There were men on deck who swore that a torpedo had crossed their bow, and the story grew in detail as the night drew its darkness across the Irish Sea. Sleep did not come as easily as usual to the Maoris in the bowels of the Aquitania.
The Scottish coast was a welcome sight and by early afternoon on 16 June the Aquitania dropped anchor behind the boom defences of Gourock, a few miles from Glasgow. The Royal Navy had successfully shepherded the convoy for 17,000 miles and delivered it safely at its destination. The Navy departed on other jobs and probably forgot all about the convoy—but the convoy did not forget about the Navy.
∗‘Farewell my son. Take care of yourself and always remember your Father in Heaven’—a Maori mother's farewell to her son.
1Brig G. Dittmer, CBE, DSO, MC, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Maharahara, 4 Jun 1893; Regular soldier; Auckland Regt 1914–19 (OC 1 NZ Entrenching Bn); CO 28 (Maori) Bn Nov 1939-Feb 1942; wounded 23 Nov 1941; comd 1 Inf Bde Gp (in NZ) Apr 1942-Aug 1943; 1 Div, Aug 1942-Jan 1943; Fiji Military Forces and Fiji Inf Bde Gp, Sep 1943-Nov 1945; Camp Commandant, Papakura Military Camp, 1946; Commandant, Central Military District, 1946–48.
2Lt-Col G. F. Bertrand, OBE, ED; New Plymouth; born Urenui, 9 Feb 1891; school-teacher; Wgtn Regt, 1914–19 (three times wounded); 2 i/c 28 (Maori) Bn Nov 1939-Oct 1941; CO 2 Maori Bn and Maori Training Unit, 1942–44.
4Maj R. Royal, MC and bar; Wellington; born Levin, 23 Aug 1897; civil servant; served in Maori Pioneer Bn in First World War; 28 (Maori) Bn 1940–41; wounded 14 Dec 1941; 2 i/c 2 Maori Bn (in NZ) 1942–43; CO 2 Maori Bn May-Jun 1943.
5WO II A. Amohau; born Whakarewarewa, 13 Jun 1915; labourer and photographer.
6Hon Lt C. Pike; born NZ 11 Dec 1894; furniture manufacturer.
7Maj-Gen Sir John Duigan, KBE, CB, DSO, m.i.d.; born NZ 30 Mar 1882; served South Africa 1900–1; 1 NZEF 1915–18; Chief of General Staff, NZ Military Forces, 1937–41; died 9 Jan 1950.
10The charge for admission totalled a considerable sum which was applied to the cost of transporting children of the district to the Centennial Exhibition.
11In recognition of their work in entertaining the troops, the Ngati Poneke Club girls were taken by bus on to the wharf before daylight the following morning.
14‘Now is the Hour’.
15Brig J. Hargest, CBE, DSO and bar, MC, m.i.d.; born Gore, 4 Sep 1891; farmer; Member of Parliament, 1931–44; Otago Mounted Rifles, 1914–20 (CO 2 Bn, Otago Regt); comd 5 Bde May 1940-Nov 1941; p.w. Sidi Azeiz, 27 Nov 1941; escaped Mar 1943; killed in action, France, 12 Aug 1944.
16Brig G. H. Clifton, DSO and 2 bars, MC, m.i.d.; Porangahau; born Greenmeadows, 18 Sep 1898; Regular soldier; served North-West Frontier 1919–21 (MC, Waziristan); CRE 2 NZ Div 1940–41; Chief Engineer 30 Corps, 1941–42; comd 6 Bde Feb-Sep 1942; p.w. 4 Sep 1942; escaped, Germany, Mar 1945; NZ Military Liaison Officer, London, 1949–52; Commandant, Northern Military District, Mar 1952-Sep 1953.