'They have really been overshadowed' - New book recognises untold Māori contribution in WWI

As Europe marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, a Kiwi author and historian has released a book detailing Māori contributions at war - particularly the untold stories of World War I.

Your playlist will load after this ad

Monty Soutar talks about his new book, Whitiki Whiti Whiti E - Māori in the First World War, on TVNZ1’s Breakfast. Source: Breakfast

Monty Soutar told TVNZ1's Breakfast today all New Zealanders could learn something from his new book, Whitiki Whiti Whiti E - Māori in the First World War.

Mr Soutar is on a mission to make sure the significant but costly contributions of Māori soldiers in both World War I and World War II are never forgotten.

Whilst the effort of the 28th, the Māori Battalion, in World War II is justly recognised and acclaimed, World War I is a much less known story.

"Primarily, the target audience [for the book] is Māori so that they can learn something about what their forefathers did and why they went to war," Mr Soutar said. "But I've always believed if you can reach them, you'll reach the wider New Zealand and I think most New Zealanders will learn from this book about what the Māori contribution was about to the World Wars." 

His grandfather served in the first World War with the Māori pioneer contingent, and like many other servicemen of the time, he is known very little about, Mr Soutar says.

"I felt that it needed to be documented because they really have been overshadowed by the 28th Māori battalion contribution," he said. "I think we shouldn't forget that and I'm glad that the book's just come out 100 years from the time they returned to New Zealand."

In 1914 when the war started, with a population of just 50,000, Māori were a minority group already, but with the departure of 2500 men rural Māori communities were stripped of some of their most able figures. More than 1000 of them became casualties - about 330 killed and more than 700 wounded.

"Such a small population, you can work out what impact that must of had on them," Mr Soutar said.

"In 1914, it was clear that Māori were second-class citizens in this country and one would've thought by their five years voluntary service in the first World War that things might've changed when they came home but very little did and it took some real effort in the second World War to start seeing some changes.

"And all of those who came home, came home with some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder and there was no treatment for it, most people didn't know what it was, and so those men lived their lives without treatment and families suffered as a result of it."

The book was launched last night with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, but there is a second launch this weekend in Gisborne.

For the weekend launch, 100 men, dressed in first World War uniforms supplied by Sir Peter Jackson, will march through the city and perform a haka.

"It will be a sight to see," Mr Soutar said.