Story: Ngā pakanga ki tāwāhi – Māori and overseas wars

Page 2. Māori and the First World War

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Māori recruitment

E te iwi, whītiki! Whiti! Whiti e!1
O people, gird yourselves [for battle]! Spring up! Spring up!

Young Māori Party and war

The Young Māori Party was a group of young Māori leaders who had been students at Te Aute College, Hawke’s Bay, in the 1890s. While dedicated to the welfare of the Māori people, they also urged adaptation to the Pākehā world. Young Māori Party leaders Apirana Ngata and Māui Pōmare were MPs during the war. Both were members of the parliamentary Māori Contingent Committee. Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa), a doctor, former MP and Young Māori Party leader, was in the Māori Contingent during the war. He saw service in Gallipoli, France and Belgium and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

When the First World War began many tribes answered the call, offering themselves for immediate service. In contrast to the South African War, the offer of a 500-strong Māori Contingent was accepted by the British government. During the war 2,500 Māori served overseas, a strong commitment from a total Māori population of 63,000. Recruitment was variable, with some communities volunteering in large numbers, while others made no response. This unevenness reflected the experiences different tribes had as a result of the New Zealand wars of the 19th century. Those tribes who had been allies of the Crown tended to be supportive of the war. Those who had fought the Crown, often suffering land confiscation as a result, tended to reject participation in the First World War.

An inherent fighting spirit motivated the young volunteers, but they generally belonged to tribes whose experiences of colonialism made them amenable to notions of civic responsibility and service. They included Ngāpuhi and the other tribes in the far north; Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Porou on the East Coast; and Te Arawa in the Bay of Plenty. Tribal elders encouraged the youth, influenced by patriotic ideals and the obligations of citizenship inherent in their ancestors’ commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi.

A nurse in the first 50

Ethel Watkins Taylor (later Ethel Pritchard) of Ngāpuhi was, in 1915, one of the first contingent of 50 volunteers with the New Zealand Army Nursing Service. Watkins Taylor nursed in Alexandria, Egypt, treating the sick and wounded from Gallipoli. She served throughout the war, later working on hospital ships and at army hospitals in England.


In 1916 conscription for Pākehā males was introduced to ensure reinforcements for units overseas. Later this policy was extended to include Māori in the Waikato–Maniapoto Native Land Court district, whose lack of support for the war effort was reflected in the sparse numbers of volunteers. These tribes protested strongly against being required to fight for a sovereign power which in the 1860s had branded their ancestors as rebels, invaded their territory and confiscated thousands of hectares of their land. The Kīngitanga (Māori King movement) under the Māori King Te Rata and his niece Te Puea Hērangi actively opposed conscription and discouraged volunteering.

A Māori Kaiser?

Ngāi Tūhoe of the Urewera was one of the tribes that suffered greatly in the 1860s wars. In 1907 the followers of Tūhoe prophet Rua Kēnana established a community in the Urewera mountains, at Maungapōhatu. With the coming of war Rua discouraged his followers from volunteering. Some Pākehā feared that he was a Māori ‘Kaiser’, actively supporting the Germans. A party of 67 police marched on Maungapōhatu in April 1916, to arrest Rua on charges of illicitly selling alcohol. An armed confrontation occurred in which Rua’s son and uncle were killed.

By 1919 only 74 Māori conscripts had gone to camp out of a total of 552 men called up. 111 Māori had been arrested for resisting conscription, with warrants out for another 100.

  1. Quoted in Christopher Pugsley, Te Hokowhitu a Tu: the Maori Pioneer Battalion in the First World War. Auckland: Reed, 1995, pp. 15 and 23. Back
How to cite this page:

Monty Soutar, 'Ngā pakanga ki tāwāhi – Māori and overseas wars - Māori and the First World War', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 April 2024)

Story by Monty Soutar, published 20 Jun 2012, updated 1 May 2016