[John Craig interviews Remi Morrison, founder of the Arawa RSA League and World War I Māori Pioneer Battalion veteran]

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Tono kōrero mai

Interview by John Craig with Remi Morrison, founder of the Arawa Returned Services Association League and member of the committee of Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū Association. The interview was conducted just ahead of the Ruātoki reunion of Māori World War I veterans, held 17-19 February 1967.

Remi Morrison relates the history of the name Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū and how the name was given to the Māori Battalion by Sir Apirana Ngata. A trust fund was set up to provide money for returning soldiers, which was the beginning of the Association. Sir Apirana Ngata toured with a concert party through New Zealand and built up a fund of twenty to thirty thousand pounds for the fund. This was when the waiata 'E pari ra' by Paraire Tomoana was immortalised.
They used the funds to buy three stations but during the Depression two of them had to be sold. Hereheretau Station is the remaining station, located just outside Wairoa. A management committee comprised of Mr Tipi Ropiha, under-secretary of Māori Affairs and the Prime Minister, who was also Minister of Māori Affairs, the Hon. Peter Fraser, were instrumental in establishing and maintaining Hereheretau Station. By the early 1950s the station started creating profits and it distributed funds to Māori ex-servicemen.

He talks about the origins of the Arawa RSA League which he helped set up in 1938. The Arawa District Trust Board set up a special fund for members of Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū but needed an organisation to administer it, so he set it up at a meeting in 1938 with the help of H. Tai Mitchell. They were the first Māori organisation affiliated to the Dominion RSA.

He talks about his own service in World War I with the Māori Pioneer Battalion. He went to enlist after his sixteenth birthday and put down his age at nineteen but was turned away by the doctor who knew him and his true age. He tried again three weeks later, saying he was twenty, and got away with it. His parents agreed and said he was twenty also. When he returned he had to revert to his actual age. He agrees now that he was too young, but never regretted it. One of his pakeha officers, Mr Jones, was his first assistant at St Stephens.
One of his own sons went away at eighteen and he knew many others who enlisted at his age.

He says the officers were mainly European but were great men who understood Māori and gained the respect of the men. He says at the time of World War I the Māori population was dwindling and they were still regarded as a dying race but by World War II, there was a greater Māori population and they felt there should now be Māori officers. He says the Arawa RSL and others made representations to the government and had Maori officers appointed to the 28th Maori Battalion.

Their commanding officers in World War I were initially Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert on Gallipoli and then Lieutenant-Colonel King who was killed just after he landed in France. He then served under Colonel Saxby and Colonel Ennis. He recalls Doctor Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa) fondly and says he was a great soldier. They also had Pacific Islanders from Niue and Rarotonga in the battalion, but they found conditions in winter in France hard and some had to be sent home. Some Rarotongans stayed with them to the end however. He believes one of the greatest soldiers New Zealand ever produced was Major Vercoe, who he believes should have received a VC and bar. He helped set up the Arawa Returned Services League also.

He recalls a story about an unnamed member of the Maori battalion who impersonated a prince and was treated royally in England until he was found out. He was a great singer and piano player and was well-educated. Another man, Sonny Brees [?] from Rotorua, was one of the first to join up at the start of the war and Morrison claims he was the only Maori to join the British Army in World War I, although he later transferred over to the Maori battalion in France.

He recalls inter-army wood-chopping and bush-felling competitions in France. He says Waikato, Taumarunui and Ngapuhi men were particularly skilled. He was one of fifteen men selected to represent New Zealand at national athletic sports in Paris in 1918. They came third, but he says they were handicapped as they had just come out of the trenches. There were also divisional sports events to boost morale.

His strongest memory of action is of Passchendaele and Ypres. He was at base camp at Etaples when Messines took place. Passchendaele was just a sea of mud and he finds it hard to say how they prevailed over the elements. He ended up at Le Quesnoy, which is where they were when the Armistice was signed.

He explains he did no actual fighting, partly because he was a member of the Pioneer Battalion and he believes, partly because of his age, he was transferred to Headquarters.

[Interview ends abruptly]

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Year 1967

Reference number 41285

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Genre Māori radio programs
Ethnic radio programs
Radio programs
Sound recordings

Credits Craig, John, Interviewer
Morrison, Thomas Remi, Interviewee
1YZ (Radio station : Rotorua, N.Z.), Broadcaster

Duration 00:34:44

Date 09 Feb 1967