The welcome home from World War I for the Māori Pioneer Battalion was a spectacle that bedazzled New Zealand.
The events had been planned well in advance of the soldiers' arrival in Auckland 100 years ago today. The welcome culminated a day later at the Auckland Domain in what the
at the time called "the greatest Māori ceremonial of its kind held since the royal visit to Rotorua in 1901".
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
It was a prelude to equally rousing receptions to welcome the troops to their home districts.
More than 1000 men of the battalion arrived in Auckland waters on the evening of Saturday, April 5, 1919.
Guns were fired in salute, ships sounded their sirens and bands played as the troop transport Westmoreland docked the next morning.
The planning had included a plane to drop a te reo Māori message to the troops from the Mayoress, translated in the Herald as: "Warriors brave! Welcome to your shores. We hope that you have all benefited by your journey on the sea, and that all those who may have been sick are now fully restored to health. After your long services we accord you a special welcome home."
The drop was also to contain cigarettes, sweets, a welcome card, and buttonholes of manuka.
As the men left the ship and were led in their march by the Auckland Infantry Band, cheering crowds filled the wharf and lined the route up Queen St, along Karangahape Rd and over Grafton Bridge to Park Rd and the domain.
They were one of only three New Zealand Expeditionary Force formations - and the only battalion - to return from the war as a complete unit.
The first Māori Contingent had left New Zealand to fight in early 1915. A year later the NZ Pioneer Battalion was formed of Māori and Pākehā platoons. In 1917 it became a Māori unit, the Pioneer (Māori) Battalion, which later included Pacific Islanders too.
By the end of the war, 2227 Māori and 458 Pacific Islanders had served in the battalion or its predecessors. Some 336 died on active service and 734 were wounded. Māori also served in other units.
In Queen St, flags were flying and the homecomers were hailed with a banner that, like the Mayoress' message, read: "Brave warriors, welcome to your shores."
Inside the domain gates, the Herald observed, "a vast crowd of pākehās [sic] and Māoris waited to give the ultimate welcome.
"The pavilion and slopes surrounding the cricket ground were thronged with thousands of people, the visiting Māoris being grouped together opposite the pavilion."
"Representatives of every tribe in New Zealand were waiting there to greet the returning braves," the Herald said, using the language of the day.
"All the treasured heirlooms of the tribes had been brought from their safe-keeping for the great occasion, the greenstone meres, the kiwi mats, the chieftain's head-dresses, the beautiful piupiu skirts, and all the other details of full-dress native costume."
A large tent camp had been established at the domain for the welcome. Some 1680 people, including the 600 iwi representatives, dined at the dinner feast, cooked in hangi.
Once the speeches and religious services were done, those tempted to toast the battalion at a pub might have been deterred by a three-day Defence Department ban from city hotels for Māori troops in uniform, on pain of military arrest and severe punishment.
On the Monday the soldiers began moving off home in groups by train or coastal steamer, the last leaving the domain by Wednesday, April 9, for a new round of welcome-home parades and celebrations.