Queen recognises Maori soldier's bravery

A Maori soldier rejected for the Commonwealth's highest bravery award, the Victoria Cross, in spite of the pleas of four generals has been honoured by the Queen.

World War 2 hero Lance Sergeant Haane Manahi died in a car crash in 1986, 43 years after he was turned down for a VC but awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his bravery at Takrouna Ridge, near Tunisia, North Africa.

Today at a ceremony in Rotorua, the Queen's second son, Prince Andrew, 47, presented Sgt Manahi's son with a special citation for bravery, an altar cloth, a letter from the Queen and a sword in recognition of his actions on Takrouna Ridge.

He was recommended for the highest valour award by four generals after the 28th Maori Battalion overcame huge odds to take Takrouna Ridge.

In his book on New Zealand Victoria Cross winners, Glyn Harper said the Allied attack on Takrouna and five other foothills failed after the soldiers blundered into killing zones on either side of Takrouna and withering fire from the enemy pinned them down to a point just beyond their starting positions.

"But early in the morning of 20 April a near-miracle occurred," Mr Harper said.

Two sections of Maori soldiers, one led by Sgt Manahi and the other by Sergeant Johnny Rogers, attacked the rear of then hill from different directions.

They fought their way up steep slopes "running for shelter from rock to rock' as the Italian and German defenders poured heavy fire on them.

The ridge was taken but the Italians recaptured it only to have it retaken by Sgt Manahi and his fellow Maori soldiers.

The corps commander, Lieutenant General Sir Brian Horrocks, witnessed most of the action and said it was the most gallant feat of arms he had witnessed during the war.

"I was bitterly disappointed when Sgt Manahi whom we had recommended for a VC, only received the DCM," he said in Harper's book, In the Face of the Enemy.

Sir Brian was later to say he could not "to this day imagine how it was captured in the face of tenacious enemy resistance."

Since the war several attempts were made to have Sgt Manahi awarded the VC, including an official approach in 1997 by the then Prime Minister Jenny Shipley. Queen Elizabeth 2 responded that she could not go against the wishes of her father, King George VI, that no more World War 2 awards for bravery be made after 1949.

At the ceremony today, Defence Minister Phil Goff, said Haane Manahi was a "man modest about his great achievements who would not have sought the attention we have rightly given him today".

"But I believe the action of Her Majesty The Queen in acknowledging her admiration for the remarkable bravery of Haane Manahi have addressed the sense of wrong felt since the recommendation for the VC made 63 years ago was not taken up."

Mr Goff said said in her letter the Queen also said Sgt Manahi embodied a tradition of dignified and loyal service associated with the Te Arawa people.

"Today I and all of us here, pay tribute to Haane Manahi but also honour the Te Arawa people and the 28th Maori Battalion from which Haane drew strength and inspiration," the minister said.

- NZPA

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