Tommy Kapai: War heroism closer to home

By Tommy Kapai

During the past week, we have been remembering the fallen heroes of battles fought on foreign shores.

When the trumpet sounds we all travel down that road of remembrance, a road that is now being paved with a new generation of silent soldiers who walk with and for their forefathers.

In our generation of the post-war baby boomers and happy hippies, war was written off as something that would never happen again and we tended not to talk about it with our fathers who may have fought in them.

My own Dad struggled to talk openly about the war and the subject only seemed to surface when he was around mates with whom he fought alongside. And the medicinal magic of a few stiff gins helped loosen the library of memories he had stored deep within his storytelling soul.

What is encouraging about the increase of interest in the Anzac Day services is that this generation has developed a deeper understanding of what was fought for and why.

For them this understanding about the futility of war has been tempered by the days of the diggers, the soldiers and the sailors who have now become folklore in their own families' historical archives.

And if this trend keeps tracking to a greater understanding about the wars our forefathers fought overseas then perhaps it can be a catalyst to help understand the wars that were fought in our own backyard here in Tauranga. If we were standing in Cameron Rd next to Mitre 10 Mega on exactly this day 149 years ago we would have been right in the middle of a battle that had all the hallmarks of the wars our loved ones fought overseas, these being land, religion, greed and racism - given Hitler was all about "coloureds" being an inferior race.

On both sides of the Battle at Gate Pa there were tragic stories of deep sadness. Mothers lost sons, children lost their daddies and lovers were left holding only memories of brave boyfriends who believed they were fighting for a greater cause.

Just like the wars overseas on the beaches of Gallipoli and Dunkirk, the jungles of Korea and Vietnam and the desert sands of Iraq and Baghdad, the battles our ancestors fought for are worthy of honoring and remembering them by.

I guess the question that has to be asked is why haven't these wars registered on the radar of remembrance - thus far?

They were fought a mere half dozen decades before World War I that we will never forget.

Perhaps with the timing of the 150th commemoration of the Battle of Gate Pa next year it is time we remembered it from both sides of the trenches in an open and honest way as we are with Anzac Day.

Perhaps there are posthumous awards to be made for the Maori heroes who fought for their lands and they too can stand alongside the 22 other Victoria Cross medals awarded to Kiwis.

Surely the heroic acts of Heeni Te Kiri Karamu and Henare Taratoa - who wrote the rules of engagement - were at least on a par with what Captain Frederick Murray, one of three Victoria Cross recipients awarded the medal during the Battles of Gate Pa and Te Ranga?

Military medals of bravery were awarded but none to Maori yet they defeated an army of thousands under a code of what was called the rules of engagement, agreed to by both parties. To look at the commendation awarded to Murray of the 68th Regiment, as it was recorded, paints a picture of the Tauranga land wars that we all need to remember.

"Received for his distinguished conduct when the enemy's rifle position was being stormed." He ran up to a rifle pit containing eight or 10 Maori and without any assistance killed or wounded every one of them, and afterwards "proceeded up the works, fighting desperately and still continuing to bayonet the enemy".

Some may see this as bravery and others may see it as something else given the recorded account from Maori who paint a picture of the Battle of Te Ranga being nothing short of a massacre where women and children were bayoneted.

Who salutes these soldiers and warriors fallen in war? Perhaps it will be the same generation who are standing tall across the fields of Flanders and in front of cenotaphs and war memorials up and down the land. Surely the sadness is the same - as is the bravery? Lest we forget.

Te Papa - Te Ranga - Tihei Mauriora.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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