80th anniversary of day Māori Battalion first assembled

By Tema Hemi
Hinemoana Durie (Ngāti Kauwhata) in Te Rau Aroha in Palmerston North, built in 1964 in gratitude to the men of the 28th Māori Battalion.  Photo/File

Today marks the 80th anniversary of when the Māori Battalion first assembled in 1940 in Palmerston North. Ngāti Kauwhata descendant Hinemoana Durie says the history of the Māori Battalion remains an important part of the community.  

“This building was built in June 1964, there were many discussions in the 1950s to create a monument for our soldiers,” Durie says.  

The Māori Battalion Hall named Te Rau Aroha stands as an emblem of gratitude to the men of the 28th Māori Battalion who lost their lives in the Second World War.  

“This is Te Rau Aroha, 80 years ago all the companies of the 28th Māori Battalion came to Palmerston North. That was their first time together.”

Palmerston North will host the NZ Military Tattoo on 4 April. Mayor Grant Smith says a special segment will be dedicated to honour the warrior spirit that took these soldiers so far away from home.

"This was formerly the Palmerston North Show Grounds and in 1940 the 28th Māori Battalion was established. They came here for three months training in early January. In fact, today is a significant day because they arrived here 80 years ago."

Mayor Smith says the significance of hosting such an auspicious occasion is befitting of the military history of the area. 

"We'll have about 11,000 people here. We'll have obviously ministers, a lot of VIPs, the NZ Defence Force VIPs, and other embassies and high commissions. We're a military city and again those connections back to the 28th Māori Battalion are very strong," Mayor Smith says.

Durie says, "It's highly significant, it stands as an emblem of gratitude for our soldiers, but also a place for the community because in those days Māori had nowhere to go in this town.” 

She says she has a proud whānau history at Te Rau Aroha, her grandfather Mason Durie senior was chair of the Raukawa Trust responsible for the establishment of Te Rau Aroha.