Story: Ngā pakanga ki tāwāhi – Māori and overseas wars

Page 6. Overseas service after 1945

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The tradition of having a Māori unit continued in Jayforce (the force that served in Japan after the Second World War), with the 270-strong D Squadron of the Divisional Cavalry Regiment. Sent from Italy to Japan in 1946, it was made up entirely of volunteers from the 28th (Māori) Battalion. Two drafts of reinforcements recruited from volunteers in New Zealand replaced them in mid-1946 and mid-1947. Their role in Japan was largely one of demilitarisation and demobilisation. They were stationed in the Yamaguchi and neighboring Shimane prefectures on the southern tip of Honshu.

Sam Rangiihu

As the Korean War went on the number of Māori in Kayforce increased. In 1953 a Māori chaplain, Rimu Hamiora ‘Sam’ Rangiihu, was appointed to the force. Renowned for his singing, Rangiihu was a brawny man who was brought in at times to reinforce discipline among the Māori gunners. In 1954, after the ceasefire, he was instrumental in having the ecumenical chapel of St Barbara built at the Kayforce base on ‘Kiwi Hill’.


The immigration of large populations of rural Māori to urban centres after the Second World War led to a greater integration of Māori and European society. This was reflected in a ‘browning up’ of the armed forces. As part of this increased Māori presence in the army it was felt that no separate Māori unit should be included in Kayforce (the New Zealand ground force in the Korean War). As the war went on some unofficial Māori sub-units, such as the gun crews within the 16th Field Regiment and a transport platoon within the 10th Transport Company, were established. There were also a small number of Māori in the crews of the navy frigates serving off Korea. Initially Māori made up 7.5% of Kayforce, but about one in four members of the later reinforcements were Māori. Over the whole of the war about one in seven were Māori (at a time when they were about 6% of New Zealand’s total population).

South-East Asia

When an infantry battalion was dispatched to Malaya in 1958, almost 23% were Māori. The New Zealand forces serving in the Vietnam War from 1965 to 1972 had an even higher percentage of Māori, around 35% (compared with about 8% of the total population).

The greater Māori participation in the armed forces led to an increasing emphasis on Māori cultural elements, both in New Zealand and South-East Asia. Haka, karanga (calls of greeting) and wero (challenges) were incorporated into the battalions’ formal routines. A meeting house and marae was constructed in Terendak, Malaya, and opened in 1962. A Māori concert party was created and performances were held regularly at the marae, as were important unit functions. In 1978 Major General Brian Matauru Poananga, a veteran of Jayforce, the Korean War, Malaya and Borneo, was the first Māori to be appointed chief of general staff.

Māori network in Vietnam

In Vietnam Māori soldiers from various tribes and districts served together in the same units. For many this contact built up a sense of Māori consciousness. Some Māori who had little experience of te reo Māori (the Māori language) met others who were fluent speakers. Through shared service a ‘Māori network' was built up within V-force, with a long-term impact on those who were part of it.

Service since the 1970s

Māori have continued to serve with distinction in the years since the Vietnam War. They formed a significant part of forces sent to trouble spots such as East Timor, Kuwait and Afghanistan. Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae commanded forces in Bougainville and East Timor before being appointed chief of defence force in 2006 (and governor-general in 2011). Special Air Service (SAS) trooper Corporal Willie Apiata won a Victoria Cross for his bravery in Afghanistan in 2004.

Along with the armed forces’ promise of employment and adventure, the legacy of Māori participation in the two world wars provided the motivation for young men and women who volunteered for overseas service during the later 20th century and beyond. Although there was no longer the attraction of a unit based on ethnicity, they served for much the same reasons as their fathers and grandfathers before them.

How to cite this page:

Monty Soutar, 'Ngā pakanga ki tāwāhi – Māori and overseas wars - Overseas service after 1945', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 June 2024)

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