British keen to help honour Gate Pa

By John Cousins

British armed forces are keen to help commemorate the 150th anniversary of one of New Zealand's most historically significant battles, the Battle of Gate Pa in 1864.

Preparations have begun to mark the occasion when Maori forces massed at Pukehinahina (Gate Pa) inflicted a stunning defeat on heavily armed British regiments under General Cameron.

The Tauranga City Council was this week briefed on progress by the project director Buddy Mikaere of Ngati Ranginui hapu Ngaitamarawaho.

Although the commemorations were still 19 months away, Mr Mikaere said it was not much time considering the magnitude of the event.

"The whole community needs to be involved, including schools because there will be a strong educational message."

There would also be strong religious and cultural elements to the commemorations and he has spoken to the British Army's regimental descendants of the two colonial regiments that fought at Gate Pa. Mr Mikaere said they had morphed into other outfits which ironically fought alongside Maori SAS soldiers in Afghanistan.

One of the British regiments had a replica unit that dressed exactly like the soldiers who fought at Gate Pa. They were keen on taking part in the commemorations along with bombardiers from the Royal Artillery.

Other special events could include the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra playing music from the period and a short season of a play set in The Elms on the night before the battle when 9 of the 10 officers who sat around the dining table would not survive the next day.

And although the defeat of Maori at the subsequent Battle of Te Ranga ushered in huge and devastating land confiscations, Mr Mikaere said the Gate Pa commemorations would have a strong positive message.

Unlike the bitterness which surrounded other major battles of the Land Wars of the 1860s, the Maori warriors at Gate Pa fought by a code of conduct, with the enduring image of Maori taking water out to wounded colonial soldiers during the night.

"It's these emotional stories that get retold."

He said the commemorations would dovetail nicely with Anzac Day on April 25 and include participation by the New Zealand armed forces.

Organisers were applying for funding from the Western Bay's three councils, local iwi, local businesses, the Government, and community funders like Pub Charity.

Mr Mikaere was about a third of the way through writing a 60,000 word book on the battle which he hopes will be published to coincide with the commemorations.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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