Eighty volunteers from around the country are in camp in Tūranga this weekend as part of a 100-man guard of honour that will commemorate 100 years since the return of the NZ Māori Pioneer Battalion from WWI.
The volunteers are learning how to march like their grandfathers who went to war.
Rapata Matchitt of Te Whānau-a-Apanui says, “I'm here with the authority of my school, Te Kura Mana Māori o Whangaparaoa, and the authority of my grandfather, Robert Hubert Matchitt, he was a lieutenant. He was the sergeant of his platoon when they entered San Casciano [Italy], where they were defeated by mines and a tiger tank.”
Three songs are being taught to the group, Te Ope Tuatahi by Sir Apiranga Ngata, Auē E Ihu which was sung by the Pioneer Māori Battalion in Gallipoli and Tipperary.
Behind the event, is Māori historian Dr Monty Soutar. He says, “We're teaching them that song in English and in Māori, "It's a long, long, way to Tipperary."
Volunteer Manuhuia Bennett heard the call by Ngā Taonga a Tama Toa Trust for volunteers, so he and his mother caught a bus from Porirua to participate.
He says he came, “To represent my family, my school Hato Paora, and to show our authority in honouring our ancestors."
"Rt. Rev. Manuhuia Augustus Bennett ONZ CMG was one of the chaplains of the 28th Māori Battalion, a strong member of the Anglican faith, and Lt. Col. Charles Bennett was one of the leaders of 28th Māori Battalion. He was a close relative of Lieutenant Colonel Arapeta Marukitepua Pitapitanuiarangi Awatere DSO, MC,” says Bennett.
The uniforms have been generously supplied by Sir Peter Jackson and Wingnut Films, with a total value of $250,000.
“I look just like my grandfather, I'm lucky to be like him,” says one volunteer.
The parade will coincide with the launch of the new book Whitiki: Māori in the First World War by Dr. Soutar.
“To remember them, lest they be forgotten,” says Soutar.