The 28 (Maori) Battalion is justly famous for its daring exploits and sacrifices in North Africa and Italy. But what do you know about the Second Maori Battalion, mobilised in March 1942?
The Japanese Empire, entering the war in December 1941, brought the war far closer to New Zealand and the Pacific. With most of our troops on the other side of the world, there was now a real concern about our own defence. This sparked a move to create a second Māori battalion to counter this threat.
In February 1942, 3,000 Māori from Auckland to Te Reinga met at Kaikohe to honour those troops who had fallen in battle. Paraire Paikea, the MP for Northern Māori (and head of the Maori War Effort Organisation from June of that year) spoke at this hui, at which he stressed Māori loyalty, and that Māori were keen to see a second Māori battalion. A message from Prime Minister Peter Fraser, while extolling Māori bravery overseas, instead emphasised Māori food production within New Zealand.
Forming the Second Māori Battalion
The War Cabinet, citing the Māori desire for a separate unit, agreed to the second battalion at the start of March 1942. While not taking Māori already in the territorials and Home Guard, home defence was a priority, as well as providing reinforcements for ‘the battalion overseas, which had done such excellent service and established such a splendid reputation for its formidable fighting qualities’. Like the 28th, it would also have Māori NCOs and officers. Fraser entertained certain ideas for the unit, suggesting in April that the new force would likely be used in the Pacific. When he suggested at a hui that “no doubt the Maori soldiers would be the first to occupy Tokyo”, Sir Apirana Ngata led a vigorous and spontaneous haka.
Lieutenant-Colonel George Bertrand (Ngāti Mutunga) was appointed as the commander. A trained teacher, he had seen service in both world wars, including as second-in-command of the 28th Battalion. The battalion’s first soldiers comprised the two Māori companies of the 2nd Auckland Regiment, as well as Māori training at other camps. Initially some Pākehā officers were seconded to the force, until the posts could be filled with Māori officers.
The Second Maori Battalion’s camp was set up on twenty acres of the “Remuera Estate”, near Ōhaeawai, Northland. This was the property of a Māori farmer, Kiharoa (Joe) Tapsell (related to the Tapsells of Maketū) who was also an organiser for the Labour Party and the New Zealand Workers Union. His wife, Hariata Tapsell whakapapa’d to the local hapū, Ngāti Korohue. The site was a blank canvas, and the first arrivals set to, “pitching tents, digging latrines, erecting mess tents and performing the hundred and one tasks incidental to the formation of a standing camp.” Due to a shortage of tents, “mess huts had to be constructed from nikau and wiwi grass spread over a pole frame”.
The battalion lacked many things, a fact that they stressed to their early guests. After the visit of a former Prime Minister, Gordon Coates, they enjoyed an influx of clothing, equipment and vehicles. In April, Sir Apirana Ngata brought a group of Māori leaders from Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Arawa and Ngā Puhi to view the camp. “The material result of this visit was shortly seen in the shape of wash tubs, axes, saws, wireless sets and many other articles which are indispensible to camp life,” as well as reading material for a library. Soldiers put in drainage, and constructed the roads within the camp, even developing their own scoria quarry for the purpose. Over time huts were erected, and electricity supplied, so that by the end of the year, the camp, with its “neat rows of wooden huts”, was quite transformed from what it had been like at the start.
Like the 28th Battalion, the Second Māori was based on tribal lines, with five companies. A Company was composed of Māori from Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Taranaki, Wairarapa, Wellington & South Island; B Company from Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty, Thames and Hawkes Bay; while C Company was just Ngāti Porou. There was also D Company (a support unit) and HQ Company, both made of Māori from all iwi.
In May 1942, the chaplain, Cpt. W. Panapa wrote to Ngata about the C Company’s dissatisfaction with their officers, saying “Perhaps you will have heard by wire about those troubles. All is well. Don’t you or Ngati Porou worry.” He explained that they would soon get Ngāti Porou officers.
As for me, I’m glad that these issues have come up. At last these pakeha have realised that what we have wanted all along was that officers from each iwi should lead their own. This is what the pakeha say, “This tribal business is all about bosh...” All’s well, it took this trouble to quickly facilitate the correction of matters that need correction.
As the C Company section of the Battalion’s anniversary publication noted, Cpt. Harding from Dargaville was the first in command. “The East Coast Maoris are tribally jealous; they can stand a lot of kicks from their own, but not from outsiders.” Harding was replaced by Cpt. Patrick Smyth of Ngā Puhi, but they were only really satisfied when one of their own, Cpt. W.T. Ngata, a veteran of the Crete campaign, was appointed as their commanding officer.
The battalion spent a lot of its time training. In December, they joined a larger exercise along with other units of their Division in the Te Whau district. During this exercise, air force planes were flying very low overhead, practicing dive bombing and strafing. “..so each man armed himself with a goodly supply of rocks and the next time a plane flew low it was greeted with a fusilade of stones which rattled on its fuselage like hail on a tin roof.” The planes did not return. “An angry observer in the rear cockpit shook his fist at the young heroes and that was that.”
The various companies also undertook practice “commandoes” in the surrounding area. One one exercise, C Company undertook a week-long commando, passing through Rangiāhua, Hōreke, Tāheke, Ōtaua, Kaikohe, and Ngāwhā. Each evening they camped at a Māori community, where they enjoyed sumptuous hospitality, such as “hangi pork, vegetables of all kinds, fruit salad, steamed pudding and cream.” In return, the company put on concerts for their hosts, and at Tāheke, put on a demonstration of rifle drill for the local home guard. Other companies also commented on the hospitality of the local kāinga.
Due to the Japanese threat, the Battalion was also used to construct defensive works on the coast. “Weapons pits, dugouts, and crawl trenches had to be excavated and the spoil disposed of; sleeping quarters were needed, cookhouses had to be dug, communications had to be arranged and barbed wire entanglements erected.” It also supplied contingents of troops to reinforce the 28th battalion, with the first group under Capts. Tāwhai and Keelan leaving in September. The battalion’s offcers were used to train Home Guard units, and its soldiers were also used locally, with the Herald reporting in 1945 that they had provided 75% of the home defence needs in the Tai Tokerau region.
The Battalion’s “official” booklet is naturally very positive about all its men and their discipline. However, the Northern Advocate reported in February 1943 on a court martial investigating the mistreatment of one of the soldiers by an officer (a veteran of the 28th). The soldier was allegedly handcuffed to a tent, an electric pole, a telegraph pole, and a tree for long periods, and been fed on bread and water. The evidence suggests that behaviour had been relatively lax.
Called by the defence, Captain Tu Manahi, an officer returned from service overseas, stated that there had been an epidemic of absence without leave in the battalion and the commanding officer had stressed to company commanders that something should be done to stamp out the offence. He had given instructions that they should build their own detention tents and look after their own detention personnel.
The accused officer himself stated:
On his arrival at Ohaeawai he had found that a number of men on his roll he had never seen. The personnel in camp were not bad and there had been minor absences without leave for a day or so but no prolonged ones. Returning from hospital he had found a number of men absent without leave. The men treated detention in the lines as a joke. It was no disgrace to them and they converted it into a holiday.
The charges were dropped. This case appears to have been an isolated incident, and that the officers were attempting to instill greater discipline in his unit.
While at the camp the troops also spent time having fun. They played rugby, first a competition between the five companies, won by C Company. The battalion team then played 12 games against other military units, winning all games except a team composed of the rest of the 12th Brigade. The YMCA also had a presence at the camp, supplying a worker and a large marquee used for concerts and “talkies”. As construction at the site progressed, they also gained several huts, one for quiet reading, the other for playing games. The YMCA also procured an old bus from Ruatōria, which they converted into a mobile canteen, used during exercises, “complete with urns of hot and cold drinks, eats in abundance and supplies of all sorts from the unit canteen.”
Dances were held fortnightly at the Ōhaeawai Hall. Although there was initially a shortage of local women due to so many having joined the women’s services, the dances became very popular with the troops, with limits being imposed to ensure that the hall didn’t become too crowded. A couple of the musical attractions were Sgt-Major Anania Amohau (previously of the 28th Battalion) who had composed the famous “Maori Battalion” song, and 2nd-Lieut. Lou Paul, a former radio announcer, who unfortunately was killed in Italy in December 1943.
The Second Maori Battalion provided a military presence at a number of significant Māori hui. They sent 250 soldiers to the opening of the Tamatekapua meeting house at Ōhinemutu, Rotorua in March 1943, where the troops were inspected by the Governor General [see image above]. A contingent of its soldiers attended the Ngārimu VC Investiture at Ruatōria in October.
In January 1945 Lieut. Falwasser, a returned officer from the 28th Maori Battalion, in an address to the New Plymouth Maori Club, lamented the training the latest reinforcements recieved. He stated that some men had been wounded four times but had not taken furlough in order to keep numbers up. The training at Trentham was inadequate, with Māori soldiers being trained by non-Māori officers. Falwasser stated that: “The position at present was that inadequately-trained Maori reinforcements were being sent overseas. The basic training now given in New Zealand was not sufficient. While the [Rotorua] cadre and former Second Maori Battalion in New Zealand had the training of men it was a different story.”
While the Second Maori Battalion was operating, it proved a hot political topic, especially for the veteran politician, Sir Apirana Ngata. There was debate at the March 1943 hui at Ōhinemutu about whether they could be sent to the Pacific theatre. Ngata asserted that the battalion wished to go to the Middle East to be with the 28th, and if there were too many volunteers they could be used to break in land for those soldiers returning.
Ngata returned to this issue when speaking at Paraire Paikea’s tangihanga the following month at Ōtamatea in Northland. Speaking after Fraser, he asserted that the Army had already taken 200 Māori troops to guard airfields in New Zealand. Fraser was angry and criticised Ngata for bringing the issue up at the funeral. He claimed to know nothing of the 200 men, but again stated that nothing would be done without consultation. Such was the tension, that the two men felt compelled to shake hands at the end of the exchange. Keina Poata of Ngā Puhi, followed on from Ngata, stating that “No doubt the men of the Maori Battalion were getting weary, and the men of the Second Maori Battalion should be given the opportunity of relieving them overseas”. Other speakers also criticised the government for not doing enough for Māori, and not living up to the promises of the Treaty of Waitangi.
While the Second Maori Battalion did not fight in its own right during the World War Two, it provided troops for home defence as well as reinforcements for the 28th Māori Battalion serving overseas. It also incorporated veterans, particularly officers, who had already served with the 28th.
A number of prominent Māori also served within this force, of whom the following is a small sample.
The battalion’s days were numbered, with the Army dismantling the camp from August 1943.
Much of this story has been taken from a small book produced by the battalion in early 1943 while still in operation. That book includes a list of the men who had served or were serving at the camp on 26 January, 1943; their names are reproduced below the endnotes.
Image: The Governor General, Sir Cyril Newall, inspecting soldiers of the Second Maori Battalion at Ōhinemutu, Rotorua. Auckland Weekly News, 31 March 1943: 16. [See also New Zealand Herald, 26 March 1943: 5.]
 See J.F. Cody, 28 Maori Battalion, (Wellington: Historical Publications Branch, 1956), http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2Maor.html; 28th Māori Battalion, https://28maoribattalion.org.nz; Monty Soutar, Nga Tama Toa: The Price of Citizenship: C Company 28 (Maori) Battalion 1939-1945 (Auckland: David Bateman, 2008); Wira Gardiner, Ake ake kia kaha e!: forever brave!: B Company 28 (Maori) Battalion 1939-1945, (Auckland: Bateman Books, 2019).
 New Zealand Herald, 10 February 1942: 7
 Northern Advocate, 3 March 1942: 5.
 Auckland Star, 20 April 1942: 6.
 Te Ao Hou, April 1958: 3.
 Ko te Reo Huringa Tau o te Ope Maori Tuarua, i noho ki Remuera, Ohaeawai, 1942-43: The Anniversary Magazine of the Second Maori Battalion, Remuera, Ohaeawai 1942-1943. Patrick Smyth Papers, MS-2002-147, Auckland War Memorial Museum., p.5.
 Northern Advocate, 28 July 1939: 6; Ko te Reo Huringa Tau, pp.5, 17, 41.
 Ko te Reo Huringa Tau, pp.5-6.
 Ko te Reo Huringa Tau, pp.6-7, 20.
 Ko te Reo Huringa Tau, pp.8, 10.
 Ko te Reo Huringa Tau, pp.15-16.
 Ko te Reo Huringa Tau, p.3.
 Rev W. Panapa to Sir Apirana Ngata, 22 May 1952, https://28maoribattalion.org.nz/memory/reverend-wiremu-panapa-updates-sir-apirana-ngata-training-2nd-maori-battalion-taiamai.
 Ko te Reo Huringa Tau, pp.55-56.
 Ko te Reo Huringa Tau, pp.12-15.
Ko te Reo Huringa Tau, pp.57-59.
 Ko te Reo Huringa Tau, p.9.
 Ko te Reo Huringa Tau, p.13.
 New Zealand Herald, 5 February, 1943: 4; 23 March 1945: 6.
 Northern Advocate, 26 February 1943: 4; 27 February 1943: 2.
 Ko te Reo Huringa Tau, pp.53-54.
 Ko te Reo Huringa Tau, p.20.
 Ko te Reo Huringa Tau, p.15; Northern Advocate, 23 December 1943: 4.
 Ko te Reo Huringa Tau, p.45; New Zealand Herald, 25 March 1943: 4
 Second Maori Battalion at Ruatoria for the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross to Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu - Photograph taken by an unknown photographer. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch :Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Ref: PA1-q-292-23-505. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. /records/23215571.
 Auckland Star, 13 January 1945: 6.
 New Zealand Herald, 26 March 1943: 4; Auckland Star, 26 March 1943: 4.
 New Zealand Herald, 14 April 1943: 2.
 Northern Advocate, 14 April 1943: 2.
 Te Ao Hou, April 1958: 3.
 Te Ao Hou, April 1955: 18.
 Te Ao Hou, August 1957: 6.
 Northern Advocate, 24 September 1946: 3.
 Te Ao Hou, August 1963: 7.
 Bay of Plenty Beacon, 14 January 1944: 5; 28th Māori Battalion, https://28maoribattalion.org.nz/soldier/john-hall-pile.
 See Camp data, Remuera Settlement Road, Ohaewai [2nd Maori Battalion], Ref: R9494061, Archives New Zealand, Auckland.
 Ko te Reo Huringa. [See note 6 for full bibliographical details.]
 Ko te Reo Huringa Tau, pp.84-91.
Past and Present members of Second Maori Battalion, as at 26 January, 1943.
Te Punga, H.P.
Te Kawa, N.
Delemere, P. [Delamere?]
Kemp, J.Kerei, W.A.
Mitchell, T.Mitchell, T.I.
Te Aho, G.S.
Te Amo, R.
Te Apa, M.
Te Hou, M.
Te Kere, P.
Te Kira, W.
Te Ngahuru, T.
Te Patu, G.
Te Rauna, M.
Te Wao, K.
Te Wehi, M.
Te Whau, C.