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War and the 28th (Māori) Battalion

In ancient times, battles were a feature of Māori life. Even after European settlement, battles continued, and indeed intensified, through the introduction of muskets.

The common fighting unit was the hapū (subtribe). Small wars were fought by one hapū, but often several related hapū or an entire tribe joined to create a larger force. A common name for a band of warriors was hokowhitu-a-Tū, meaning the 140 men of Tūmatauenga (the 70 twice-fold warriors of Tūmatauenga, the god of war). This name was adopted by the Māori Battalion, following in the steps of their predecessors, the Pioneer Battalion.

Read a detailed background on the 28th (Māori) Battalion.

Nearly 16,000 Māori men enlisted for service during the Second World War. The 28th (Māori) Battalion was one of the most celebrated and decorated units in the New Zealand forces by the time the Second World War had ended. The Battalion was formed to align with tribes/waka affiliations and grouped into four companies:

  • A Company region (fondly known as the ‘Gum Diggers’) comprised men from Auckland and North Auckland, largely a collection of related tribes, with Ngā Puhi, Te Aupori, and Ngāti Hine being the largest in that region.
  • B Company region (fondly known as the ‘Penny Divers’) covered the Bay of Plenty, taking in Te Arawa and Mataatua canoes. It included tribes such as Te Arawa, Ngāti Tuwharetoa, Ngāi Tūhoe, and Ngāti Awa.
  • C Company region (fondly known as the ‘Cowboys’) represented the East Cape from just north of Ōpōtiki through to the Wharerata hills south of Gisborne. It included such tribes as Te Whānau-a-Apanui and Ngāti Porou.
  • D Company region (fondly known as ‘Ngāti Walkabout’) was huge in land size, stretching from South Auckland through Waikato, Taranaki, Whanganui, Manawatu in the west of the North Island; Wairarapa, Hawke’s Bay up to Mahia Peninsula in the east of the North Island; all of the South Island, Wharekauri (Chatham Islands), and Stewart Island; and also men from the Pacific Islands. Waikato, Ngāti Kahungunu, and Ngāi Tahu are some of the tribes in that region.

Get more information on the four companies and the formation of the 28th (Māori) Battalion.


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