Recording brings war voices back

By Sonya Bateson

A 70-year-old voice recording of a Ngati Whakaue Maori Battalion soldier wounded fighting in World War II has just been found.

Sergeant Peter Mason Hodge from Koutu, serial number 39055, was one of several soldiers wounded in North Africa at Christmas in 1942. They were visited by the National Broadcasting Service (now Radio New Zealand), which had a mobile recording unit travelling with the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force. In the early 1940s, this was cutting-edge technology, recording sound in a mobile studio in the back of a specially fitted-out Bedford truck.

The recordings were messages to be broadcast back home in time for Christmas. While the identity of some of the soldiers remains a mystery, Sergeant Hodge's voice was one to be identified.

Sound Archives Nga Taonga Korero preserves and maintains these recordings and archivist Sarah Johnston came upon this taonga 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)."

The patients sang Silent Night/Marie te po and then, while the choir sang Tama Ngakau Marie in the background, 14 men introduced themselves and sent greetings in Maori to whanau.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage and co-ordinator of the 28 Maori Battalion website Monty Soutar said as well as Sergeant Hodge, the voices of Te Irimana Waenga of Te Whanau-a-Apanui, Barney Kapuaroa of Gisborne, Tame (Thomas) Karena of Ngati Kahungunu, Kopu Heremia of Ngati Raukawa, Hira Parata of Ngati Toa, Ripene Matoe of Ngati Ruanui and Hami Ngaheke of Ngati Pikiahu-Waewae had been identified.

Because of the background singing and the age of the audio, some of the voices were hard to decipher. Dr Soutar said he hoped whanau would listen to the recording on the website and identify the remaining voices.

The 28 Maori Battalion was officially disbanded at the start of this month. Of the 3600 Maori men who served in the battalion, only 22 remain. Sergeant Hodge died on July 16, 1999. A signed flag brought back from the war by Sergeant Hodge is now displayed in the Rotorua Museum.

The recordings can be heard by visiting

- Rotorua Daily Post

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