For four years, from the trenches of the Western Front in 1914, Harry Delamere Dansey penned letters to his loved ones back home in New Zealand.

Telling the tales of his experiences as a solider with the Māori (Pioneer) Battalion, the letters have since been passed down from generation to generation.

Next week, his great-great-granddaughter Rangiamohia Dansey-White will share them with a wider audience.

Dansey-White will read a selection of letters the day following the Anzac Day unveiling of a significant pou maumahara in Belgium, paying tribute to the New Zealand soldiers who served in World War I – including Harry Delamere Dansey.

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The unveiling will be held at Passchendaele Memorial Park in Zonnebeke, Belgium, a significant site in New Zealand's wartime history.

Rangiamohia Dansey-White will share her great-great-grandfather's wartime letters at a Belgium service next week. Photo / Ben Fraser
Rangiamohia Dansey-White will share her great-great-grandfather's wartime letters at a Belgium service next week. Photo / Ben Fraser

Carved from 4500-year-old swamp kauri, the pou maumahara stands eight metres tall and weighs just over six tonnes. It was carved over a four-year period by master carvers from the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute at Te Puia in Rotorua.

Dansey-White said this was the first time Māori involvement in World War I had been recognised in this way in Europe and it was a privilege to attend the ceremony on behalf of her whānau to pay their respects.

"My great-great-grandfather served in the Māori (Pioneer) Battalion on the Western Front, as well as his two brothers George and Roger, so we have a strong connection to Passchendaele. Today, they are remembered at the Muruika Soldiers' Cemetery in Ōhinemutu on the edge of Lake Rotorua.

"He wrote many letters while he was away at war. In these, he talks about his experiences supervising the construction of a light railway to transport weaponry to the front and to evacuate wounded troops – he'd trained as an engineer and his skills were highly regarded.

The memorial will be unveiled on ANZAC Day at Passchendaele Memorial Park in Zonnebeke, Belgium.

"For this valuable service and for 'distinguished services in the field' he was awarded the Military Cross in January 1918," she said.

After the war, Captain Harry Delamere Dansey returned to a career in engineering. Later, he retired to Rotorua, becoming president of the Rotorua Chamber of Commerce. He was elected mayor of Rotorua in 1941, an office he held for just a year before his death on June 29, 1942.

"Growing up, we were always told about what my great-great-grandfather and his brother Roger did for Māoridom when they got back from the war," Dansey-White said.

 James Rickard from New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute with the pou maumahara. Photo / Supplied
James Rickard from New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute with the pou maumahara. Photo / Supplied

Dansey-White's great-grandfather Harry Delamere Barter Dansey was a member of the 28th Māori Battalion during World War II in North Africa and Italy, and today both her father and uncle serve in the New Zealand Army.

"Attending Anzac Day dawn services with my dad has always been a big part of my childhood. I'm honoured to be attending a special ceremony in Belgium where I can stand at the place that holds such great significance for my family and I."

ABOUT THE POU MAUMAHARA

A six tonne pou maumahara (memorial carving) will take centre stage at one of Europe's most prominent battle sites – creating a powerful memorial at a place of enormous significance for New Zealand.

The memorial will be unveiled on Anzac Day at Passchendaele Memorial Park in Zonnebeke, Belgium, following the region's annual dawn service.

Carved by master carvers from the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI), at Te Puia in Rotorua, the pou is a tribute to Māori who served in World War I, including the Māori (Pioneer) Battalion, other New Zealand soldiers and their allies.

Te Puia l NZMACI board member David Tapsell said the pou had been gifted to the community of Zonnebeke to commemorate the two countries' shared wartime history and the significant contribution the Māori (Pioneer) Battalion made.

The memorial has been named Pōhutukawa, likened to the poppy at Passchendaele when it blooms, as well as the star in the constellation of Matariki associated with those that have passed.

Tapsell said pōhutukawa signifies new beginnings, welcoming tūpuna (ancestors) when they arrived from Hawaiki, as well as being the last tree that stands at the tip of New Zealand's most spiritually significant place (for Māori), Cape Reinga.

Carved from 4500-year-old swamp kauri, the memorial has been four years in the making, stands 8m tall and weighs just over six tonnes.

"The pou is an enduring reminder of the service and sacrifice shown by our soldiers, and by those who remained at home in New Zealand. It tells the story of the impact of World War I on Māori and the New Zealand community," Tapsell said.

He said the carving had two sides representing war and peace.

"The Tūmatauenga (war) side faces the north west towards the 'jumping off line' for New Zealand soldiers for the Battle of Passchendaele and commemorates those soldiers who left New Zealand shores to fight in the war – many of whom never returned.

"The Rongomaraeroa (peace) side faces the south east, acknowledging those who remained home in Aotearoa | New Zealand, including those who opposed conscription.

"The memorial carving celebrates the memory of our ancestors and the sacrifice they made, expressed through our nation's best carvers."

Te Puia | NZMACI have been working alongside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Belgian authorities on the project.

New Zealand Ambassador to Belgium, Gregory Andrews, said he hoped the memorial acted as an enduring point of connection between New Zealand communities and the people of Flanders, who had already shown great hospitality to generations of New Zealanders.

"The pou is a significant legacy project that provides an appropriate conclusion to New Zealand's centenary commemorations for World War I in Belgium – and the prospect of valuable connections between Belgian and New Zealand communities for many years to come."