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The Ngārimu V.C. Celebration, 1943.

hitara waha huka
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Lachy Paterson
23 April, 2022

On 6 October 1943, a multitude of people assembled at Whakarua Park, Ruatōria [Ruatōrea] to attend the posthumous investiture of the Victoria Cross to Second Lieutenant Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngārimu.  Celebrating the first (and only) VC for bravery in the face of a German attack at Tebaga Gap in Tunisia,[1] this event, attended by the military, an official party, as well as civilians and school children, was “one of the largest Maori gatherings of modern times”.[2]

Ruatōria, a small settlement just south of East Cape, now has a population of about 820 but has long been considered the Ngāti Porou “capital”.[3]  At the time of the investiture, the town’s population was about 2,000, mostly Māori, with about 4,000 Māori living in the wider Waiapu County.[4]  At a time of war, with restrictions and rationing in place, coupled with Ruatōria’s relatively isolated location, the influx of such huge numbers necessitated considerable logistical planning.

The army was responsible for much of the planning, with the Central Military District ordering 2,000 palliasses which local Māori were to fill with hay, plus cooking equipment.  30 local Home Guardsmen with building experience, who could live locally, were to erect temporary grandstands for people, with the timber to be recycled and sold to local people to keep costs down.  A camp was to be organised for two nights for about 850 Māori soldiers, mainly recruits to the Māori Battalion, and Māori Home Guardsmen from Rotorua to Cape Runaway, and south to Wairoa and Wairarapa.  Local marae were also hosting returned servicemen.  Local Pākehā and Māori committees also assisted.  Visitors were encouraged to bring their own mugs, with the Māori Committee selling cups to those who forgot to do so.  Transport also needed to be organised for the many people coming from other districts, and food for the many school children.[5]   

Māori communities in the wider region also contributed.  For example, a report from Korongata, near Hastings, stated “As part of the vast amount of preparation for the Ngarimu V.C. Investiture by His Excellency the Governor at Ruatoria, the local folks have been kept very busy. Of first importance was the raising of a specified sum of money—quoted at £300—towards the great occasion.”  It also stated, “By special request from Sir Apirana T. Ngata, host and fugleman of the great celebrations and demonstrations of Maori culture in everything Maori, the Korongata Choir travelled to Ruatoria as special guests to contribute to the great event on October 6th, 1943.”[6]

Many Māori saw Ngata as the “father” of the Māori Battalion, and his iwi contributed the largest proportion of its members.  He lived near Ruatōria, and the success of the event reflected not only on the Māori Battalion, but on Ngāti Porou.  Despite being an opposition MP, the government held him in high regard.  As the District Commander, Col. H.M. Foster wrote before the event, “Sir Apirana Ngata, M.P., is the main mover in this, and I have been told to more or less carry out his wishes in this connection.”[7]

But, aside from tribal mana, why was the VC Investiture so important to Ngata?

First, the very formation of the Māori Battalion had been about asserting Māori equality within New Zealand society through a shared sacrifice of young men through battle.  Through the valour Māori displayed and their capability as officers and men, Ngata expected that the state paternalism, social marginalisation and petty racism would no longer be a feature of post-war New Zealand.  This hope can be seen in the title of his small book, The Price of Citizenship, an account of the Battalion’s deeds, printed as an accompaniment to the ceremony.[8]  Ngārimu thus represented all Māori serving overseas, and the Investiture was a reminder to Pākehā of the debt they owed to the Māori Battalion.  

Second, the battalion was part of a larger project to assert Māori pride and ethnic difference.  This can also be seen in the construction of meeting houses and other marae buildings, and the promotion of Māori art and culture.  The actual Investiture started with a service conducted by the Bishop of Aotearoa, followed by speeches from the Prime Minsiter and Governor General, then capped with the award of the V.C. as well as other medals to Māori officers.  But the reception that preceded this was a much more Māori affair, an extended pōwhiri with a number of whaikōrero, waiata, haka, and mōteatea from Ngāti Porou, and from Ngārimu’s mother’s side, Te Whānau-a-Apanui.[9]  The day therefore also asserted Māori identity and ethnic consciousness.

Finally, the event was an opportunity to proclaim the proposed Ngārimu V.C. and 28th Māori Battalion Memorial Scholarship.  As Ngata wrote to the Rex Mason, the Minister of Education, three months before the ceremony: “to commemorate the first award of the Victoria Cross to a Maori, the settlers, Maori and Pakeha, on the East Coast suggest the raising of a scholarship fund to assist Maori education throughout the Dominion”. Already £2000 had been raised. Ngata wanted an appeal to be launched in Native Schools and Public Schools with large numbers of children, and the government to match the contributions pound for pound.[10]

For this reason, the Māori children were an important presence at the event.  Ngata told Mason that “the Native Schools, of which Moana Ngarimu was such a distinguished product, should take a prominent part in the ceremony”, asking that 1000 children be selected, and be hosted at schools near to Ruatoria.[11]  The Education Department was given about six weeks to organise who would go and how they would get there.  The Minister instructed:

Of the children, 600 will come from Ngatiporou and not require any special arrangements on your part.  Of the other 400, 300 will come from as far afield as the Bay of Plenty and Wairoa, and 100 from Taranaki, Thames, North Auckland etc. Of these 25 will be from North Auckland and 25 from Western Maori.

. . . .

The meeting has the greatest significance as a Maori national event and it is important that an impression should be made on the consciousness of the children from as wide an area as possible. On such an occasion their racial consciousness and self-respect is strengthened in a matter that we should in every way sustain.[12]

Some groups were very small and from diverse isolated communities, such as the two pupils from Motiti Island, and another two from Ōmanaia School at Rāwene.[13]  These children were billeted; those from North Auckland were asked to take “a rug, towel, toilet soap, boot polish, and if possible a toy flag of any of the allied nations. . . . Boys should be dressed in dark suits, and girls in white blouses. . . . Children should be at least 12 years of age and recommended by the teachers for conduct and self reliance.”[14]

The school pupils braved the squally conditions and performed four items as part of the welcome, including the popular song “Hitara Waha Huka” (Hitler, the Frothy Mouthed), “selected because of its wide vogue among the children of the Native Schools. . . . The piece is reminiscent of the cursing song, or kaioraora, and the children render it with the vigour and gusto of their forefathers.”[15]

Ngata wrote to thank Mason in November 1943 on behalf of Ngāti Porou and Te Whānau-a-Apanui for making “possible the representation of Maori School Children from all parts of the North island at the recent Ngarimu Investiture ceremony. It was one of the outstanding features of the gathering, and one from which farreaching [sic] results may accrue. The men to honour whose memory and achievements in this war so many tribes and Pakeha friends cooperated will not have died in vain, if their example and deeds inspire the youth of New Zealand to strive to fulfil their complete obligation as citizens of the British Commonwealth.”[16]

As the Māori-language newspaper, Te Waka Karaitiana, put it:

One part of this hui’s arrangements that is really appreciated is organising to take there children from schools across Aotearoa so they could see, and join in the events of this day, so the reasons for the days activities may be inscribed into their hearts, for them to see the haka, hear the Māori chants, that is, to understand the accomplished and beautiful work of their ancestors, so they may see value in the noble treasures of their Māoritanga.[17]

The event was no doubt inspiring for some.  For the girls of Hukarere Maori Girls College,

we will always look back on the celebrations as one of the big events in our lives and we hope that the courage and bravery that bought this coveted honour will be an incentive to us to strive to the best of our abilities to develop whatever is good in us for the honour and uplift of our beloved race.[18] 

For the young Home Guardsman, Nolan Raihania, and four of his colleagues, it inspired them to sign up for overseas service.[19] 

However, it was also a time of sadness.Mrs Ngarimu spoke for every mother who had lost a son, when responding to the question, ‘Was she proud of Moana’s Victoria Cross.’ ‘Oh, no,’ she said, ‘I would much rather have my son.’[20]

Nahau ra, Moana nui a Kiwa,

I roro [riro] mai ai tenei taonga nui,

Titiro mai, e tama, i Tunihia

Ki te iwi, e mihi atu nei.[21]


Image: School children performing “Hitara Waha Huka” during a hui for Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu at Ruatoria. Pascoe, John Dobree, 1908-1972 :Photographic albums, prints and negatives. Ref: 1/4-000690-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22769207


Other resources

Video of members of Māori Battalion performing, including Hitara Wahahuka (Hitler Throthy Mouth):

Video from a 1943 newsreel of the V.C. Investiture:

Documentary on Ngārimu’s life and exploits:

Nolan Raihania - Anzac Day 1 hour Special 2013 Waka Huia.

Waka Huia profiles Nolan Raihania who fought for his country, returned and started a family, became a leader in his community and oversaw the winding up of the 28th Maori Battalion association as its last president.



[1] For a biography of Ngārimu, see:

[2] N.Z.E.F. Times, 11 October 1943, p.3.   Depending on the source, the number of attendees sits between eight and ten thousand.

[3] “Ruatoria”, NZ History.;

[4] Census and Statistics Dept, Population Census, 1945. Vol.III—Maori Census (Wellington, 1950), p.5.   Ruatōria’s population increased immediately after war, with 2200 ration books issued at the town’s post office in 1946. Gisborne Herald, 9 October 1946, p.6.

[5] 041 – The Price of Citizenship – Material for Second Edition, MS-Papers-6919-0235, &  043 – VC Celebrations – Ruatoria 1943, MS-Papers-6919-0238.  Ngata, Apirana Turupa (Sir), 1874-1959: Papers.  Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.  See also Wartime administrative Arrangements – Award of Victoria Cross to 2/Lt. Moana-nui-a-Kiwa-Ngarimu – Celebrations at Ruatoria – Train arrangements and official party, IA1 3051, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

[6] Te Karere, November 1943, inside back cover.

[7] Memo, Col. H.M. Foster, Central Military District to HQ, Northern Military Headquarters, 31 August 1943. MS-Papers-6919-0238.

[8] Apirana T. Ngata, The Price of Citizenship: Ngarimu, V.C. (Wellington: Whitcombe and Tombs, 1943).

[9] See Souvenir of the Ngarimu Victoria Cross investiture meeting and reception to His Excellency the Governor-General Sir Cyril Newall, G.C.B., O.M., G.C.M.G., C.B.E., A.M., Whakarua Park, Ruatoria, East Coast, 6 October, 1943 : programme & texts of items (Wellington: Whitcombe and Tombs, 1943); and Supplement to the Souvenir Programme (Gisborne: Gisborne Herald, 1943).

[10] Letter, A.T. Ngata to Minister of Education, 22 July 1943. MS-Papers-6919-0238. 

[11] Ibid.

[12] Memo, Minister of Education to Director Education, 10 September 1943.  E2 584, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

[13] Scholarships – Bursaries etc. Ngarimu V.C. [Victoria Cross] and 28th Maori Battalion Scholarship Fund, E2 584, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

[14] Circular, Director of Education to Headteachers of Native Schools, North Auckland, 16 September 1943. E2 584, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

[15] Souvenir, pp.6-7. Supplement, n.p.

[16] Letter, A.T. Ngata to Minister of Education, 18 November 1943. E2 584, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

[17] Te Waka Karaitiana, October 1943, p.130. “Ko tetahi wahi o te whakahaere o tenei hui e tino whakamihia ana ko te whakaritenga kia mauria atu etahi tamariki o nga whare kura katoa puta noa a Aotearoa kia kite ai ratou, kia uru hoki ratou ki nga whakahaere o tenei ra, kia tuhituhia rawatia hoki ki roto i nga papa o o ratou ngakau te tikanga o nga mahi o taua ra, kia kite ratou o nga haka, kia rongo ai ratou ki nga patere Maori, ara kia mohio ai ratou ki nga mahi tohunga, ki nga mahi ataahua o o ratou tipuna, kia wariu ai ratou i nga taonga rangatira o to ratou Maoritanga.”

[18] Letter, Wai Te Weehi (on behalf of the pupils of Hukarere Māori Girls’ College) to Minister of Education, 11 October 1943. E2 584, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

[19] Nolan Raihania, “He Raumahara: He Toa nā Tūmataenga”, Pīpīwharauroa / Tūranganui-ā-Kiwa, April 2015, p.4.

[20] Monty Soutar, “Te Pakanga Nui o Mua: 28th Māori Battalion Association Closure”, Pīpīwharauroa / Tūranganui-ā-Kiwa, January 2013, p.12.

[21] Supplement, n.p.

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