100-strong battalion remembers Māori WWI soldiers

By Ruth Smith

A one hundred man battalion has marched in Gisborne to celebrate war historian Dr. Monty Soutar's hometown launch of his new book, Whītiki! Whiti! Whiti! E!.  The march was organised to commemorate those who fought in World War I, 100 years ago.

On Saturday, a re-enactment of the Pioneer Batallion's welcome home parade through the city marched to the beat of a bygone era.

Carlos Paenga, one of the one hundred, marched for his ancestor Parekura Tureia, who he says fought in both World War I and II. 

Three wānanga were held to train the unit and Paenga says it was a big job to learn all that was required.

"We learnt how to march like soldiers. We also learnt the haka and the songs they sang," he says.

The parade drew in scores of people, both local and national, all in Gisborne to honour a historical event known as He Hui Aroha.

"One hundred years ago our forefathers arrived from England, He Hui Aroha was the welcoming ceremony for those who left in 1914," says event organiser and renown historian, Dr. Monty Soutar.

A big drawcard was the involvement of international movie director Sir Peter Jackson, who supplied all the authentic regalia.

"It makes me feel proud that we were able to help, but it also makes me feel proud that these guys are wearing the uniforms that their ancestors wore 100 years ago," he says.

It was at the end of Sir Peter Jackson's speech that the crowd was brought to tears, as the 100 soldiers performed a rousing haka.

"They went to fight for equal rights in this country, yes, to take on the enemy, but also to ensure that we would be better off here in New Zealand," Dr. Soutar explained. 

The march may have only lasted the day, but the memories of it will remain.