Recordings made by wounded Maori troops in North Africa 70 years ago have gone up on the 28th Maori Battalion website (www.28maoribattalion.org.nz) as part of the official winding up of the 28th Maori Battalion Association. The recordings were personal messages to be broadcast back home in time for Christmas, but the identities of some of the soldiers remain a mystery.
The recording was made by the National Broadcasting Service (now Radio New Zealand), which had a mobile recording unit that travelled overseas with the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force. In the early 1940s this was cutting-edge technology, recording sound on to acetate discs in a mobile studio in the back of a specially fitted-out Bedford truck that travelled through the deserts of North Africa and on through Italy with New Zealand forces.
Sound Archives Nga Taonga Korero preserves and maintains the recordings, and archivist Sarah Johnston came upon them while researching seasonal Christmas audio last month.
"The original description of this 1942 recording was 'Christmas carols from staff and patients at No. 2 New Zealand General Hospital, North Africa'," she said.
"On listening to it we found messages from doctors and nurses and descriptions of Christmas Day celebrations in the hospital, and then a group of Maori patients is introduced, led by Nurse Wiki Katene of Porirua (Ngati Toa).
"They sing 'Silent Night/Marie te po,' and then, while the choir sings 'Tama Ngakau Marie' in the background, 14 men introduce themselves and send greetings in Maori to whanau back home."
The background singing and the age of the audio made some of the voices hard to decipher, but by enhancing the audio historian Dr Monty Soutar, from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and co-ordinator of the 28 Maori Battalion website, had been able to identify most of the speakers, who he said included Peter Hodge (Ngati Whakaue), Te Irimana Waenga (Te Whanau-a-Apanui), Barney Kapuaroa (Gisborne), Tame (Thomas) Karena (Ngati Kahungunu), Kopu Heremia (Ngati Raukawa), Sgt Hira Parata (Ngati Toa), Cpl Ripene Matoe (Ngati Ruanui) and Hami Ngaheke (Ngati Pikiahu-Waewae).
It was hoped that whanau and descendants of the men would listen to the recording through the website and maybe put names to the remaining unidentified voices.
Dr Soutar said the recordings included interesting snippets such as an interview in Egypt with the victorious Maori Battalion rugby team captain Syd Jackson and coach Pine Taiapa, after the 1943 Freyberg Cup final.
There were also recordings by Lt Rangi Logan (Ngati Kahungunu), Pte Bill Te Anga (Waikato, Maniapoto), Henare Toka (Ngapuhi) and Lt Col Tiwi Love (Te Ati Awa), who was killed just months later, encouraging their iwi to send more reinforcements.
The Sound Archives and the website were continuing to work to create a comprehensive on-line collection of wartime recordings made by members of the 28th Maori Battalion, which would ensure their legacy remained alive and accessible for future generations, he added.