|Ref: AE Watkinson for Auckland Weekly News, Māori troops from Wangauni, 1914,Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19141029-36-4|
In particular Ngata believed Māori involvement would win Māori greater respect from pakeha, and strengthen future claims to full citizenship and equal status. Ngata is important because he advocated that Māori would achieve most visibility by serving as an identifiable unit. Many Māori served throughout the war in New Zealand’s provincial battalions, but it was largely through the vision of Ngata and Buck that Māori could be seen ‘winning their spurs,’ serving their bloody political apprenticeship and beginning the long march to political equality in New Zealand.
|Ref: Auckland Weekly News, Māori soldiers martching at Narrow Neck, Takapuna, 1915, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19150722-48-5|
NZ’s Minister of Defence, James Allen, wrote to New Zealand Expeditionary Force commander Major-General Sir Alexander Godley saying ‘Although they are a coloured race I think it would be apparent on their arrival they are different to the ordinary coloured race’. However because of the small size of the Māori contingent and senior commanders’ scepticism about their battle-worthiness and ability to replace losses, Māori soldiers were sent to Malta as a garrison and labour battalion. This was not received well and many resented this inactive non-combatant role, but their officers realised they would have to accept the wisdom of the army and ‘to grin and bear it.’ Their turn in the firing line would come soon enough.
Author: Chris Paxton, South Auckland Research Centre