The New Zealand Māori Contingent and the New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion

This ANZAC Day we remember all those who served in the Māori Contingent and the New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion in World War I.

The first Māori Contingent (Native Contingent, New Zealand Expeditionary Force) left New Zealand on 14th February 1915 onboard the SS Warrimoo and included men from Rarotonga and Niue. The Contingent’s crest was the taiaha and tewhatewha, two traditional Māori weapons, while its motto, 'Te Hokowhitu a Tū' (the seventy twice-told warriors of the war god), signified the 140 warriors of the war god Tū-mata-uenga. This name was given by Wiremu ‘Wī’ Pere, an East Coast rangatira.

The Contingent disembarked in Egypt on 26th March and was sent to Malta for further training and garrison duties. The men were later transferred to Gallipoli to build and improve infrastructure, trenches, and supply depots. However, from August to December 1915 they were re-deployed as infantry with the NZ Mounted Rifles Brigade and were involved in the Battle of Chunuk Bair, suffering significant casualties.

In early 1916, the Māori Contingent was re-formed as a ‘Pioneer Battalion,’ becoming part of the newly formed New Zealand Division, and served on the Western Front. In September 1917, the New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion was formed.

The New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion returned home after the 1919 ceasefire. Some of the soldiers are shown here, marching up Queen Street, Auckland, on their way to a welcome home ceremony at the Auckland Domain.

The unit was disbanded in March 1919 and later awarded the King’s Colour.

More than 2700 Māori and Pacific Islanders served in the First World War and we remember and honour each one. Here, we find out about six of them.

Image: Herman Schmidt. Portrait of Lieutenant Awarau of the New Zealand Māori Pioneer Battalion, 
wearing a Returned Soldiers Association badge, 1920. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 31-A4027.

Sheep farmer Hatara Matehe Te Awarau, Ngāti Porou, Reg. no. WW1 16/124, enlisted on 21st October 1914 at Waipiro Bay, East Cape. He was 38 years old at the time and married to Emma Matehe.

Hatara left New Zealand on 14th February 1915 bound for Suez, Egypt, as part of the 1st Māori Pioneer Battalion, B Company on the troopship Warrimoo. His rank was that of Company Quartermaster.

Lieutenant Te Awarau served in the Egyptian Campaign and at Gallipoli. In recognition of his service he was awarded the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

George Robert Dansey was born in Rotorua on the 26 March 1878. He was a single 37 year old when he enlisted at Narrow Neck Camp, Auckland, on 4th January 1916 and his occupation on the Nominal Roll is listed as Telegraphist. His father, Roger Delamere Dansey of Rotorua, is named as his next of kin, while his mother was Wikitoria Ngamihi Dansey, née Kahuao.

Dansey was a Second Lieutenant with the Māori Contingent, 14th Reinforcements, and departed New Zealand on the vessel Aparima on 16th February 1917. The soldiers disembarked in Plymouth, England, on 2nd May.

Second Lieutenant Dansey served in Western Europe and was awarded the British War Medal and the Victoria Medal.

Image: Herman Schmidt. Portrait of Private Florian of the Māori Contingent, 
New Zealand Māori Pioneer Battalion, wearing a New Zealand Returned Soldiers Association Badge, 1917. 
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 31-F3350.

Gaston Florian (also known as Flanton), WW1 20801, was born in Suva, Viti Levu, Fiji, on 24th August 1885, the son of Aston Florian.

He enlisted on 19th July 1916 at Narrow Neck Camp, Auckland, aged 31 years. The Nominal Roll records his occupation as Storeman and his wife is named as Mrs Filiata Florian of Apia, Samoa. Gaston embarked on his journey to Europe on the troopship Tofua on 11th October 1916 and served with the 9th Reinforcements, Māori Contingency. Lance Corporal Florian served in Western Europe and was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

He also served in World War II between February 1941 and March 1942.

Image: Herman Schmidt. Portrait of 2nd Lieutenant Hēnāre Mokena Kōhere, 
Reg No 16/1018, of the 2nd Māori Contingent, New Zealand Māori Pioneer Battalion, 
wearing campaign medal, 1915. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 31-K2804.

Hēnāre Mokena Kōhere, Ngāti Porou, was born on 10th March 1880 in Te Araroa, Gisborne, the fourth child of Hone Hiki Kohere and Henarata Pereto (Bristow). He was the grandson of the Ngāti Porou chief Mokena Kohere and his wife Marara Hinekukurangi.

He served in the South Africa War (1899-1902) and on 9th June 1915, at the age of 35, enlisted for service in World War I as a Second Lieutenant. The Nominal Roll records that Hēnāre was married. He married Ngarangi Turei, a teacher, in 1905 and the couple had three children. Ngarangi died in 1910. Hēnāre left New Zealand with the 2nd Māori Contingent on board the troopship Waitemata on 18th September 1915, bound for Suez, Egypt.

He served as part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force and at the Battle of the Somme, where he was severely injured. Hēnāre died of wounds on 16th September 1916 at the age of 36 and is buried in Heilly Station Cemetery, Méricourt-I’Abbe, Somme, France, IV. F. 11.

Second Lieutenant Kōhere was awarded the 1914-1915 Star medal and there is a stained-glass window with an image of him in St Mary's Anglican Church, Tikitiki. The church is a memorial to Ngāti Porou soldiers who fought and died in the First World War.

Tawheo Matenga was born in Gisborne on 25th May 1897. At the time of enlistment on 30th May 1917 he was a 20 year old single farmer. His parents are recorded as Rina Waipare of Nuhaka and Waitaniwha Matenga of Gisborne.

Private Matenga embarked for Liverpool, England, with the 22nd Reinforcements NZ Māori Pioneer Battalion on the vessel Corinthic which departed on 13th October 1917 and disembarked on 8th December.

Private Matenga was deployed to Western Europe. He was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Image: Herman Schmidt. Portrait of Private Percy Rameka, Service number 16/1574 of the 5th Māori Contingent, New Zealand Māori Pioneer Battalion, 1916. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 31-R2107.

Private Percy (aka Pahi) Rameka was born in 1894/5 in Ohaeawai, Bay of Islands to Waikerapuru and Matire Rameka. At the time of enlistment, he was a single blacksmith living in Kaikohe, Northland.

Percy embarked for Europe on board either the troopship Waitemata or Ulimoroa on 29th July, 1916 as a Private with the 5th Māori Contingent, New Zealand Māori Pioneer Battalion.

He died of tuberculosis at sea en route from France to New Zealand on 26 May 1918, aged 24.

Private Rameka is honoured at the Auckland Provincial Memorial, Waikumete Cemetery, Glen Eden, Auckland. His name is engraved on the memorial that commemorates 40 New Zealand servicemen of World War I - as well as a number from World War II - who enlisted in the Provincial District of Auckland and who were either buried in New Zealand, or buried at sea, and have no known grave.

He is also honoured at the Kaikohe War Memorial Hall, Memorial Drive, Kaikohe, as well as at the Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira World War I Hall of Memories.

Private Rameka is commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The material in this blog post was originally curated for an ANZAC Day exhibition in the J. T. Diamond Gallery, Waitākere Central Library, Henderson, which in the current Covid-19 lockdown could not be held.

Additional images of Māori soldiers, photographed by Herman John Schmidt, can be found on the Auckland Libraries image database Heritage Images.

References and external links:

He Toa Taumata Rau - Online Cenotaph
28th Māori Battalion
New Zealand History Māori and the First World War
New Zealand History Māori soldiers sail to war
Navy Museum Troopships that departed New Zealand during World War One
The New Zealand Māori (Pioneer) Battalion – commemorating 100 years since the return home on 6 April 1919

New Zealand Defence Force Medals
Te Ara Ngā haki Māori and flags
Henare Mokena Kohere biography
Heritage New Zealand St Mary's Church (Anglican)
Auckland War Memorial Museum. Dr Monty Soutar, (2015). The Battle of Chunuk Bair. Available at: (Accessed: 23 April 2020).


Pugsley, C. (2015). Te Hokowhitu A Tu: The Maori Pioneer Battalion in the First World War. 2nd Ed. Auckland, New Zealand. Oratia Media.

Soutar, M. (2019). Whitiki! Whiti! Whiti! E! : Maori in the First World War. New Zealand. Bateman.