Step back in time
History came alive in Gisborne on Saturday when the 100-strong guard of honour in the Maori Pioneer Battalion commemoration marched through the city in a stirring and emotional tribute parade.
It commemorated 100 years to the day that 300 members of the battalion returned to Tairawhiti from World War One and were welcomed by “the Hui Aroha” at the racecourse.
A man standing on the parade route by the police station summed it up simply.
“What a spectacle. It’s just so moving,” he said with tears in his eyes.
Many hundreds of people lined the parade route from Te Poho-o-Rawiri Marae to Kelvin Park, where the crowd swelled to around 2000, including many families, on the lawn outside C Company House.
The event included the second launch of Doctor Monty Soutar’s book on the battalion (see story on page 3).
“This has been a fabulous occasion that gives mana to the book and the other way round,” said Walton Walker, the chairman of parade organisers Nga Tama Toa Trust.
“We are absolutely thrilled. It’s all been quite special. What a magnificent sight.”
The marchers, aged from 12 to 60, were immaculately kitted out in WW1 uniforms, with Lee Enfield rifles at the slope and battalion colours flying. They marched at the quick step to the beat of a single drum.
The crunch of their hobnailed boots echoed as they went by, singing It’s A Long Way to Tipperary in English and Maori.
Doctor Soutar was thrilled with the way the parade went.
“My satisfaction is seeing the pleasure and pride on the faces of these men.”
He paid tribute to the work of drill instructor Rayner Jahnke, who in turn said “the men did themselves and their whanau proud”.
“For men who have only had on average about eight hours practice, they did fantastically well,” Mr Jahnke said.
Gisborne police officer and former Poverty Bay rugby representative Jamie Hutana was a marker in the front rank of the 100.
“It was awesome to be part of it . . . it was special and emotional, knowing the battalion did it 100 years ago.”
Seventeen-year-old Costa Blackman, from Tolaga Bay said it was “an honour and a privilege . . . a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent my tipuna”.
The youngster in the parade, 12-year-old Tumanako McGhie from Gisborne, was beaming when he said: “We were all so keen. It felt really good to be part of it.”
The battalion included Maori, Pakeha and Pacific Islanders, and that was represented in the parade.
Willie Apiata VC followed the marchers in a vintage car, accompanied by the nieces of Moana Ngarimu VC, who carried with them his gallantry medal. It was the first time both awards had been in the same place together.
Defence Minister Ron Mark and Sir Peter Jackson also attended.
Dr Soutar thanked Sir Peter, whose WingNut Films team provided the uniforms at a cost of $250,000.
“Much of that cost came out of Sir Peter’s own pocket,” said Dr Soutar. “Without him and his staff this could not have happened.”
Sir Peter said he was deeply moved by the entire process . . . “the training of these young guys, their marching and the people carrying photographs of their ancestors”.
“Gisborne is probably the only place in the world that could pull this off. It was an incredibly emotional sight.”
Doctor Soutar said the plan for the parade had always been “audacious . . . but we had God on our side with the weather”.
Following the ceremonies, the parade moved back to the marae via the Wi Pere Monument and Heipipi Park, including further haka and waiata.
A wreath was laid at the monument in honour of Wi Pere who was instrumental in the formation of the battalion.
See also this story by Murray Robertson.