A Maori grass skirt worn by a British naval captain during World War I's largest sea battle has gone on display.

The traditional flax piupiu skirt was seen as the item of luck that saw the battleship HMS New Zealand survive the Battle of Jutland.

Now, in the centenary year of the famous World War I naval battle, the piupiu has been loaned to The National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) to form part of a major exhibition. The piupiu was gifted to Captain Lionel Halsey Royal Navy Commanding Officer of the battleship HMS New Zealand - paid for by the people of New Zealand - during the ship's visit Downunder in 1913.

"The provenance, and in particular the gifting of the piupiu, cannot at this stage be substantiated as there is little factual evidence," an NMRN spokeswoman said.


Legend has it that the Maori chief presenting the piupiu made three prophecies - that the ship would be involved in three sea battles; it would be hit only once; and that no one on board would be killed.

The chief requested that Halsey wear the piupiu in battle to protect the ship and crew.
In May 1915, Halsey was promoted and appointed to another ship. He passed the piupiu over to his successor on HMS New Zealand, Captain J.F.E. Green.

"Captain Green was told of the Maori chief's request and agreed to wear the piupiu into action, which he did during the Battle of Jutland on May 31, 1916," the museum spokeswoman said.

"Again, the ship came under heavy fire but was hit only once, sustaining minor damage and no casualties."

The piupiu remained on board the battlecruiser until the surrender of the German fleet in 1918.

The piupiu was then returned to Halsey who later lent it to the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy to be displayed in the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition in Wellington in 1940.

Upon his death in 1949, Halsey, then Admiral Sir Halsey, left the piupiu to his youngest daughter Ruth Halsey.

After she died in 2002, her nephew John Wood, offered it to the Navy Museum.


Now, the National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy has lent the piupiu, along with a bell hanging bracket from HMS New Zealand, to the NMRN for its exhibition, "36 Hours: Jutland 1916, The Battle That Won The War".