Tomorrow marks 100 years since the return of the Pioneer Māori Battalion from WWI and, as a tribute, Dr Monty Soutar has organised a 100 man honour guard of volunteers who will march down the streets of Gisborne, replicating the day soldiers returned home from war.
The volunteers are learning to how to act like soldiers on parade, how to stand tall, how to turn their heads in-sync at the call of the parade commander, how to carry a rifle and how to march.
Soutar says, "Thoughts hearken to the Pioneer Māori Battalion, perhaps we will see within this group the same nature of their great grandfathers."
One of the 100 volunteers and son to Dr Monty Soutar, Eparaima Soutar says, “My great grandfather Rota Waipara on my mother’s side, he went to fight overseas and returned, that's why I'm taking part in this exercise.”
This is the first time some of these young men have held a rifle, mimicking their great grandfathers who went off to war at a similar age.
The parade commemorates the return to NZ of 300 Pioneer Māori Battalion soldiers to Gisborne in 1919 from the tribal groups of Ngāti Porou, the Tūranga tribes, Kahungunu covering Wairoa to Wairarapa, Te Whānau-a-Apanui, Tūwharetoa, Tūhoe and some from Mātaatua as well.
Gisborne closed down for a half-day to welcome the soldiers. It is expected that representatives of these iwi will again be present to mark the centenary of the Hui Aroha.
'Tatau tatau i roto i nga ra o te mamae, o te tauwhainga. Tatau tatau i roto i nga ra o te rangimarie, o te maungarongo.' - This was the invitation used in 1919 to invite people to the Hui Aroha. It means, ‘As we were together in the days of anguish and contention, so, let us come together in these days of peace and harmony’.
Many of the young men in the 100 man honour guard are direct descendants of those Pioneer Māori Battalion soldiers.
“Most of them have had their hair cut, some haven't but that's alright, we will cut it today. They look similar, most of them are Māori but some are Pasifika, others are Pākehā, the Pioneer Battalion was the same,” says Soutar.
Tomorrow, the Victoria Cross medals of Te Moananui a Kiwa Ngārimu and Willie Apiata will be included in the proceedings.
“The Pioneers, the Māori who went to WWI, they were grandfathers to Te Moananui a Kiwa Ngārimu VC, and the same with Willie Apiata, so there's a connection between the two Victoria Cross medals,” says Soutar.
The launch of Soutar's book, 'Whītiki! Whiti! Whiti E! Māori in the First World War' will complement the parade tomorrow.
The parade will begin at Te Poho-o-Rawiri Marae at 11.15am on Saturday 8 June and follow part of the route that the Māori (Pioneer) Battalion took through Gisborne in 1919, ending at Kelvin Park in Stout Street for the book launch.