Portrait of Private William (Dick) Crowmer - Sir George Grey Special Collections, 31-C4140.Te ope Māori tuatahi - Māori in the First World War

Prior to World War 1, New Zealand sent a volunteer contingent to fight in South Africa (in 1899). Wi Pere, member of Paliament, advocated to send Māori volunteers to help fight in this war, but were rebuffed on the ground that it was a ‘white man’s war’.

In 1913, Lord Kitchener was to review the military organisation. New Zealand was getting ready to send forces to Germany. Sir Apirana Ngata and Te Rangi Hiroa, members of Parliament, were determined that Māori would not be denied the right to share in the defence of the Empire.

Iwi sent telegrams to the Government offering to send Māori to war. At first they were turned down stating that no native race should be used in hostilities between European races. However, it was soon discovered that Indian troops were being sent to France and France were using African troops. It was then accepted that 250 men would be sent to Egypt, but this then turned to 500 men as more and more recruits stepped up to volunteer.

The first World War saw Māori soldiers serve for the first time in a major conflict wiith the New Zealand Army.  A contingent took part in the Gallipoli Campaign and later served with distinction on the Western Front as part of the New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion. In total 2688 Māori and 346 Pacific Islanders -including 150 Niueans - served with the New Zealand forces (including Private William Crowmer, who is shown in the photograph above).

The Battalion first left New Zealand in February 1915. They trained in Egypt but were first assigned to garrison duties.  Sir Peter Buck played an important role in diverting Māori from garrison duty at Khartoum, which led to them fighting in Gallipoli. Increasing casualties amongst the ANZAC forces during the Gallipoli campaign led to the deployment of the Battalion, arriving on the Cove on 3 July 1915.

Sir Peter Buck himself signed up for war and departed Wellington on February 13 1915 on the troopship ‘warrimoo” for Suez. He was 37 years old and was appointed Medical Officer to the contingent and with the soldiers under his care he was able to indulge his interest in anthropology by recording the physical measurements of the Māori soldiers. He served in Egypt and France and was promoted to Major and became second in charge of the Pioneer Battalion. 

In late August 1916, the Battalion was sent into the battlefield at the Somme, and began work on an 8 km communication trail known as 'Turk Lane.' At Messines Ridge, the battalion suffered 155 casualties and 17 deaths.



In 1916 conscription was introduced due to a need for military replacements overseas. However, at that time it excluded Māori. Maui Pomare and Apirana Ngata argued in Parliament that conscription should also apply to Maori.  Te Arawa and East Coast Iwi were loyal to the crown and influenced by patriotism and obligations of citizenship wanted to take part in the war, however not all iwi agreed. Waikato and Taranaki Iwi who had suffered loss with the confiscation of their land were against sending their people to war and King Tawhiao forbade his people to take up arms. Rua Kenana also would not commit Tuhoe followers to war.

Under the Military Service Act 1916 the conscription principle was extended to the Māori race.



The Māori Recruitment Committee - who comprised of Aprianga Ngata, Maui Pōmare, Peter Buck and Taare Parata - were faced with recruiting replacements for casualties in the war. Inspired by the 1st Māori Contingent’s exploits in Gallipoli, Apriana Ngata composed a recruiting waiata, "Te Ope Tuatahi."

Paraire Tomoana composed "I runga o ngā Puke" and "E Pari Ra" as laments for those who had gone to war and these were used in fund raising efforts. The Original Karangatia Ra was composed by Ngata to welcome home the Battalion in 1919 as a haka aroha.


Te Ahi Kā

During WWI women largely embraced the traditional role of keeping the home fires burning and were encouraged to knit as part of their contribution to the soldier’s comforts. A total of 640 volunteered as nurses, 17 of whom were killed, including 10 who drowned when the hospital ship Marquette sunk.
Aprianga Ngata fought for the rights of Māori wives in de facto relationships to be entitled to the separation allowance, stating that Māori customary marriage was recognised in law under the Native Land Act 1909. Ngata was also concerned for Māori soldiers for their return home and continued to ensure that resettlement and employment of Māori servicemen would not be forgotten.

First World War resources relating to Māori involvement

Auckland Libraries’ Resources

Waiata about Māori in the First World War

Online Resources



© Auckland Council