Closure and recognition for whānau of the Māori Battalion

By Jessica Tyson

It is 76 years since the end of World War II, yet closure and recognition only came this weekend for more than 60 members of the Māori Battalion.

On Saturday medals were presented to servicemen and their whānau in Gisborne for the first time after a complicated postal arrangement meant some ended up in the wrong place or weren't shipped at all at the completion of the war.

The service was a victory for lawyer David Stone who led the charge to get the servicemen recognised.

“It was fantastic that these families were genuinely overjoyed and you saw that with some of the recipients," he says.

"I was standing around the back there where the soldiers were receiving the medals and I was standing with the recipients and you should have seen them. They were standing there taking deep breaths all nervous to go on all and it was really cool.”

Stone says he became involved after he researched his great uncle’s war record. “He was killed in Italy during the war and buried there, but his family hadn’t received his medals. I realised other families must be in the same situation.”

NZDF Personnel Archives and Medals worked with Stone regarding the unclaimed medals of C Coy 28 (Maori) Battalion members, where more than 900 records were checked, with 137 medals found to be unclaimed – or 15%.

Army stepped up

Despite the major delay, Stone says the ceremony was a success.

“What the army did, they did it in a really mana-enhancing way and I have to take my hat off to the army, that it came to the party late, but it's there now and it's really embracing this kaupapa and it's doing it to the best of its abilities.”

Stone says the army thought the medals needed to be presented face to face rather than received in the post.

“In a perfect world it would have been done when they came back but they didn’t and there were reasons for that."

He says the policy at the end of the war was for service personnel to request medals due to them and they were then sent in the mail. However, Māori Battalion members believed there was no mana in receiving a medal in the post.

“They took that principle to their grave and that sentiment was certainly said on the day ‘why so long’ but we covered that and we did something about it.”

Stone says there are other families of members of the Māori Battalion still owed medals.