ANZAC day is a time we can talk about an incredible way people have 'come together,' and the brave acts of New Zealand soldiers for our country.

Poppies grew on the battlefields after World War One and symbolise us remembering and giving thanks to those who have fought in wars for New Zealand.

Remembering our 28th Māori Battalion

This year, we're remembering our Second World War 28th Māori Battalion - here's some of what we have learned.

It was a contentious issue that Māori offered services for the Second World War (1939 – 1945). Following the effects of colonisation and the New Zealand Land Wars it’s fair to say that not all Māori were keen to volunteer for the British Empire. Leaders such as Te Puia Hērangi were very hesitant, while Sir Aparina Ngata believed participation was exceptionally important and in line with Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Supported by iwi leaders and Māori politicians, many young Māori came forward as volunteers and the 28th (Māori) Battalion was formed as an all Māori infantry unit.

The 28 Māori Battalion was arranged into Companies A, B, C and D. These were predominantly made up of iwi such as:

  • A Company were mostly from Ngā Puhi
  • B Company were mostly from Ngāi Tūhoe
  • C Company were mostly from Ngāti Porou and Rongowhakaata
  • D Company were mostly from Waikato, Heretaunga (Hawkes Bay), Taranaki, Ngāi Tahu and the Pacific Islands

The New Zealand 28th Māori Battalion fought in many of the most extreme battles of the Second World War across Greece, Crete, North Africa and Italy. There are many accounts of the Battalion’s extraordinary heroism, humour, optimism, unity and musicality. They became internationally famous and by the end of the Second World War in 1945, they were our most celebrated infantry. They were also our most decorated, with the 28th Māori Battalion receiving 99 honours and awards – the highest of all New Zealand infantry battalions.

Famously, German General Siegfried Westphal, Field Marshal Rommel's chief of staff, stated "Give me the Māori Battalion and I will conquer the world."

Sadly, the Māori Battalion’s casualty rate was 50% higher than the average over all the New Zealand infantry battalions. This, and their noted recognition are a mark of the extreme battles they fought and risks they were prepared to take. NZ Division Commander General Freyberg famously said: "No infantry had a more distinguished record, or saw more fighting, or, alas, had such heavy casualties..."

The Māori Battalion are a great source of pride to our country and our Second World War allies. We know they are also a great source of pride to the many whānau and tamariki who have descended from them.

We love this video of the 28th (Māori) Battalion using some time in Italy to waiata for American troops.

Which battalion did my whānau belong to?

The Māori Maps website provides information on many of the marae around the entire country.

Tamariki can look up the marae where they live or even their own whānau marae for all the information on their maunga, awa, iwi and hapū. Included in the information is also the battalion company that the whānau and community belong to.

Staying curious about ANZAC Day and the Māori Battalion

Here are some ideas tamariki could try themselves, either at school or during the holidays:

  • Use our frame to draw a picture of someone who was part of the 28th Battalion. Tamariki can also add words they said or describe them.
    • Make a Wreath of Poppies to lay on your community's epitaph or Giant Poppy to display – you might add some names of community members that are important to you.
  • Interview a member of your whānau about their understandings or memories of war that have impacted Aotearoa.
  • Korero around these questions:
    • How was the 28th Battalion acknowledged at the time?
    • How has the 28th Battalion made a difference to my life?
    • How do we, or might we, remember the 28th Battalion?

Want to know more?

We love the details found on the NZ History website.