New Zealand was a very young nation at the start of the Great War, having only experienced one other overseas conflict prior; the Second Boer War. Prior to this, New Zealand itself was a battleground in the years following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The Waikato Wars and the War in the North, were still in recent and even living memory when New Zealand was thrust into mankind’s greatest conflict at the time. Having only recently fought against the British, some Maori were more than a little apprehensive about fighting in a war for Britain. However, others, were prepared to serve and more than 2,000 Maori soldiers did. Initially, the Imperial authorities were wary of using, ‘natives,’ in a war alongside Europeans, yet the Maori soldiers proved their value as effective shock troops and satisfied a need for more men in a war of attrition. Maori soldiers were all volunteers despite efforts to conscript more.
Maori had as many reasons to fight in the Great War as they did to stay out of it, yet tribal divisions and colonial history played a significant role. For those Maori that did go away to fight, the promise of adventure, respect or mana and propaganda were reasons for Maori soldiers to enlist just the same as NZ Europeans. For NZ Europeans, most identified as being British and wanted to serve their King and Country in the war. However, Maori had other reasons, they may have fought less out of a sense of duty and more out of a desire for fair and equal treatment in colonial New Zealand. However, not all Maori wanted to fight, some didn’t want to join those who were their enemies only a few generations ago in a war far from home.
‘We have our own King.’
Princess Te Puea Herangi
Forced to Stand in Line?
Forced to Stand in Line?
With World War 1 taking so many lives, the government needed more men for the war effort. Thus, they passed a law that would force those men called up to join the army and fight in the Great War. The Conscription Act of 1916 saw many New Zealanders who had not already volunteered pressed into service in the Great War. This particular issue was divisive among NZ Europeans but even more so among Maori. There were many Maori who supported it, some had even volunteered beforehand—such as Peter Buck, a Maori MP—whilst others resisted the new law. This resistance was unsurprisingly concentrated in the Waikato region. The Waikato had been the site of conflict between the New Zealand based colonial authorities and the Kingitanga movement. A Maori kingdom the size of Belgium, which in 1863 fought a war with British colonial authorities which ended with harsh consequences for the defeated Kingitanga. Much of their land was confiscated, leaving those Maori poor and bitter about the relatively recent conflict. Not to mention a number of other incidents in which the Maori were harshly dealt with by colonial authorities for even non-violent resistance, as occurred at Parihaka.
This was all still in living memory by the time of the Great War and when the conscription act was extended in 1917 to cover Maori, primarily done to tap into the wealth of manpower available from Waikato iwi, it reignited these historical tensions. With the rallying cry, 'We have our own King,' many Waikato Maori fought conscription.
Foremost among them was the leader of the Kingitanga movement, Te Puea Herangi, the grand-daughter of the second Maori King, Tawhiao, who had led the Kingitanga in the war of 1863 and 1864. Te Puea was determined to uphold what her grandfather had declared upon making peace with the NZ Colonial government in 1881, he called for the Waikato to 'lie down,' and not allow, ‘blood to flow from this time on.' Te Puea kept this promise and organised the men who had defaulted from conscription along with their supporting iwi to meet at Te Paina near Mangatāwhiri. A deliberately small group of police officers were sent to go to this meeting and apprehend those called up. Once they arrived they were formally greeted and the leader of the officers asked for the men called up to step forward. Te Puea responded with her now famous words, "These people are mine … I will not agree to my children going to shed blood. Though your words be strong, you will not move me to help you. The young men who have been balloted will not go …You can fight your own fight until the end."
…You can fight your own fight until the end."
Te Puea Herangi
The potential for violence to break out was high, yet never realised. Many of those called up remained with Te Puea whilst a good number were sent off to be trained at the Narrow Neck Camp, of the 74 conscripts sent to the Neck, none were sent overseas. A total number of 552 Maori were called up and some had been arrested though in 1919, all were released. This meant that only those Maori who volunteered fought in the Great War.
Check out this post below to see the faces of Maori soldiers who served in the Great War and did not return to Aotearoa…