‘We’ve been downtrodden for a long time’ - Māori Battalion's last survivor

By Whatitiri Te Wake

Sir Robert Gillies was dubbed with a sword today, becoming a knight and, while it's a cause of celebrations for Māori, for Sir Robert, it merely reinforces his goal of seeking justice for the 28th Māori Battalion.

“I accepted it on behalf of the Māori Battalion - and the Māori people,” he said.

He has spent years fighting against the poor treatment of the Māori Battalion on their return after six years fighting overseas in World War II. The 97-year-old still demands acknowledgement of that treatment.

“We've been downtrodden for a long time. Even the Pioneer Battalion. It goes back further still. We've got a long way now, and I think it's about time we settle all these grievances," he said

He says that, if he could go back in time, he wouldn’t enlist. He says the Māori Battalion was treated unfairly and the impact of that is still being felt today.

'Make it right'

“He ngau tuara te mate o te kāwanatanga. O ia Kāwanatanga. E hiahia ana mātou i tēnei kāwanatanga kia whakatikahia”

“It's deception. That's the problem of this government, of every government. We want this government, to make it right,” he said

Sir Robert's final campaign is for the Māori battalion's honours to be enshrined on its flag, as regiments do.

“E hia te roa e tatari ana mo tēna. Ko Himi Hēnare i tono, e hia nei tau ki muri”.

“How long have we been waiting for that? Sir James Henare lobbied for it so many years ago.”

Sir James's grandson is Defence Minister, Peeni Henare. He says he’s in support of Tā Roberts' plea. 

“He rerekē ngā tikanga o Ngāti Tumatauenga, ka tukuna mā rātou era kaupapa e whiriwhiri. Kua korero ahau ki a Ngāti Tumatauenga me whakahōnore tātou i ngā mahi a te Rua Tekau Mā Waru”

“The Defence Force follows different procedures. We’ll let them sort through those issues. I’ve spoken to the Defence Force and said let's honour the work of the Māori Battalion,” he said.