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The Maori Contingent at Avondale

The Maori Contingent at Avondale

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Published by Lisa Truttman
Story of the Pioneer Maori Battalion Camp at Avondale, 1914-1915 -- Waiatarua
Story of the Pioneer Maori Battalion Camp at Avondale, 1914-1915 -- Waiatarua

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Published by: Lisa Truttman on Oct 27, 2008
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05/25/2012

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Waiatarua:
The Training Camp for the First Maori Contingent at Avondale(1914-1915)
“Between 1914 and 1918 part of the racecourse was used by the army,” according to
The Challenge of the Whau
. Of these wartime occupiers of Avondale’s mostprominent area of green space, the ones likely to come to mind are the tunnellingcompany who had their initial army training on the racecourse in late 1915. But nearly500 men preceded the Tunnellers, their training extending from October 1914 toFebruary 1915 – New Zealand’s first Maori Contingent, the start of the MaoriBattalion.
The call to arms
 The First World War was declared on 4 August 1914 – just two days later, the MaoriMembers of Parliament “declared their desire of a Maori force going to the war” bytelegrams to the Government. On the same day, However, the initial policy of theBritish Government was not to have non-white races taking part “in the Wars of theWhite Race against a White Race.” However, by early September, an army of Indiantroops had been raised to serve at Suez, and the French had raised forces from theirAlgerian colony. This led a Dunedin North MP to suggest to the Prime MinisterWilliam Massey in the House that as Maori were prepared to volunteer as well, whycouldn’t they? The British acceded to the New Zealand Government’s suggestionlater that month.The Government’s agreement to allow Maori to volunteer for the expeditionary forceswas not made without reservations. Sir Joseph Ward, in the same parliamentarysession as the suggestion to appeal to the British was made, reminded the Minister of Defence that “the bulk of the Maori people was beyond the limits of the existingsystem of military training, and although there were Maoris enthusiastic to goforward, they were in greater need of training than the pakehas who werevolunteering.” He suggested that “concentration camps” be immediately establishedin “Maori districts for the training of volunteers.” The idea of having training groundsin provincial districts was probably dropped due to logistic difficulties. There werealso doubts as to whether the Maori servicemen would be up to serving in Egypt
 
alongside the rest of the expeditionary force. Even when the British gave theiragreement as to Maori volunteers for the war, the New Zealand Government weremaking counter-proposals, most likely involving the later plan to send only half of thecontingent to Egypt, and the rest sent to Samoa for garrison duty. This was opposedvociferously by Sir Maui Pomare and his recruiting committee, by the tribes, and bythe contingent themselves, and was dropped by November 7 1914.The newspapers of the time interviewed surviving “old campaigners” from the time of the land wars of the previous century, and they had no doubts as to the battle-worthiness of the descendants of their former allies and foes. “If they were sent to thefighting line,” one told the
 Herald 
, “there would not be a man of them who wouldshrink from laying down his life for the Empire of which they are now a part. I knowthat these men would welcome any chance to bring new glory to the Maori race, evenat the sacrifice of their own lives. There are many races in the British Empire whomwe could not readily trust as soldiers in a crisis like this, but the Maoris may betrusted absolutely. I would unhesitatingly put them beside the Turocs, who are doingsuch magnificent fighting for the French just now.”Some doubts as to the wisdom of Maori volunteering for this foreign war wereexpressed among Maori also. Indeed not all Maori supported the calls from the Maorimembers of Parliament. At a meeting in Pariora near Patea, the elders “were of theopinion that, as no outside foe has ever invaded New Zealand, it would not be rightfor Maoris to go abroad in defence of the Empire.” The Waikato was an area notablyabsent in the lists published of areas from where the volunteers hailed, choosing toabstain due to ongoing grievances with the Crown.But the concerns which were to dog the contingent most during their training inAvondale were those of health – more specifically, the risk of typhoid being passedfrom the Maori to the non-Maori population. The Auckland Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Makgill expressed his concerns that a large concentrated gathering of Maori in one place “would almost certainly result in an epidemic”, given that “thehabits of the Maoris are such that even with the strict supervision of a military camp,it would be difficult to prevent the spread of infection.” He advised as to the dangersof collecting “a couple of hundred natives in one camp, or in one ship [to Egypt]. The
 
danger would not only be to the Maoris themselves, but to those who came in contactwith them, either in the camps or on troopships.” Dr. Makgill felt that due to theincidence of “carriers” of typhoid, and the risk of volunteers coming from areas wherethe disease was rife, inoculations would do little to prevent an epidemic breaking out.His department never publicly agreed with his concerns, but did engage in aninoculation programme for every volunteer in the contingent.
The camp at Avondale
 By the end of September, Avondale’s racecourse had been chosen for the site of thetraining camp. According to a written account of the time, the Maori name given tothe Avondale camp was “Waiatarua”. Between the 7
th
and 16
th
October, the ArmyService Corps were busy setting up the camp, with all tents pitched by the 16
th
and awater supply, showers and sanitation was provided. The first of the contingent arrivedon Saturday the 17
th
of October. Divine service was held on the next day, conductedby one of two Maori clergymen in the camp, the Rev. William Keretene (the otherclergyman was the Rev. Hone Wi.) By the end of that week, close to the fullcomplement of 500 volunteers were encamped on the racecourse. Command of thecamp was given to Capt. H. Peacock (promoted before the end of the year to Major),and Lieutenant A. E. Jones of St Stephens School in Parnell. The Avondaleracecourse managers gave army staff the use of all buildings. Hutchinson Bros, thegrocery firm, supplied the men with goods at town prices via an on-site canteen. Tentsfor a hospital and for use as recreation facilities were provided. A number of thevolunteers were young men from Te Aute College, Three Kings Wesleyan Collegeand St Stephen’s School in Parnell, with even a couple coming from as far as theChatham Islands.The First Maori Contingent was to be dubbed a “Pioneer” battalion, with the intendedaim of providing the skilled labour for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Theywore a badge on their hats and shirt collars by the time they embarked for Egypt in1915 showing a taiaha and a tewhatewha crossed through a crown, with the motto “TeHokowhitu a Tu” (“the seventy twice-told warriors of the war god Tu”, this figure of 140 being the favoured size for the traditional war party or
taua
.) Their trainingroutine was well-documented by the newspapers over the course of that summer of 1914-1915:

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