Millions of non-Europeans are only starting to get the recognition they deserve for their contribution to the end of “the world’s war in Europe”. You might know that 1.5 million Indians fought alongside 5m Brits at the end of empire, but what about the 16,000 Māoris?
The 28th (Māori) Battalion joined the North African and Italian campaign. Their history is becoming an important language resource.
On Te Kete Ipurangi – the online knowledge basket – Māori tell their story, with English subtitles and resources. Some Māori leaders such as princess Te Puea were against joining British forces that had fought against their own people.
But other Māoris used song both to recruit their fellow soldiers, and to mourn and commemorate those who died fighting. These songs are still taught and passed on to the grandchildren’s generation.
The last president of the 28th Battalion, Nolan Raihania, recalls how the similar vowel sounds made it much easier for him to learn Italian. He says Māoris could pronounce Italian much better than the English did: buon giorno even sounds like kia ora. Here he is singing one of the favourite songs he learned in Italy: Buona Notte.
A Māori language account of the 28th Battalion’s story, Dr Soutar’s Nga Tama Toa: The Price of Citizenship was published just six months ago. It took five years for volunteers who knew the vetarans to translate it and is one of the largest Māori language publications to date, alongside the Bible and Māori-English dictionary. Now that’s something nobody could have predicted 70 years ago.
28th Battalion also fought in Greece and Crete