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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

First Maori V.C

First Maori V.C.

Among the many decorations gained by servicemen from Poverty Bay and the East Coast during the Second World War that which stands out pre-eminently is the V.C. which was posthumously awarded to Lieutenant Moana-nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu, of Ruatoria (E.C.), for bravery of the highest order in Tunisia. No other soldier of Maori blood ever gained the most coveted of all British military awards—the simple bronze cross bearing the significant words: For Valour. Amid a wealth of traditional native ceremony the award was handed to the dead hero's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Hamuera Ngarimu, at Ruatoria, on 6 October, 1943, by the page 346 Governor-General (Sir Cyril Newall). A Ngarimu Scholarship Fund of £25,000, which is to carry a State subsidy of a like amount, will also honour the memory of the gallant hero.

During the assault on a vital hill-feature, Point 209, at the height of the battle which raged along the Mareth Line between Djebel Tebaga and the Matmata Hills on 26–27 March, 1943, Lieutenant Ngarimu's platoon was sent to capture a strongly-defended under-feature, which lay forward of the point. The citation states that he was the first to reach the hillcrest, and that, personally, he annihilated at least two enemy machine-gun posts. As the reverse slope was being constantly swept by machine-gun fire it was impossible to advance farther. Under cover of a fierce mortar barrage the enemy counter-attacked. Lieutenant Ngarimu ordered his men to stand up and engage the enemy, man for man. The attackers were literally mown down, seven falling to his own tommy-gun.
Twice Lieutenant Ngarimu was wounded—once by rifle fire in the shoulder, and, later, by shrapnel in the leg—but he refused to leave his men, although urged to do so by the O.C. and by his battalion commander. Throughout the night the enemy vainly attempted to dislodge him and his men, each attack being beaten off entirely as a result of his inspired leadership. Daylight found him still in possession of the under-feature, but only he and two unwounded other ranks remained. Reinforcements were sent up to him. During a further enemy counter-attack he was killed, defiantly facing the enemy, with his tommy-gun at his hip.

Born at Whareponga on 7 April, 1919, Lieutenant Ngarimu received his primary education at Whareponga and Hiruharama, and then went on to Te Aute College. When the war broke out he was assisting his father on his property near Ruatoria. To expedite his acceptance for military training he gave his age as one year above his true age. He left with the Maori Battalion as a private and received further training with the Middle East Officers' Cadet Training Unit.

In Lieutenant Ngarimu's veins flowed traces of European blood, but, in the main, he was of Maori ancestry. His father, Hamuera Ngarimu (born in 1896) is a three-quarter-caste Ngati-Porou, and his mother, Maraea Akuhata, who claims descent from Whanau-a-Apanui tribe (Bay of Plenty), is also not of full native caste. On Lieutenant Ngarimu's father's side the non-Maori blood was Irish and Scottish. Hamuera Ngarimu's parents were Tuta Ngarimu, a full-caste Maori (born in 1857), and Makere, a half-caste (born in 1865; died 1943). Both belonged to Whareponga (E.C.). Makere's father was a half-caste named Hohepa (who was born in the 1830's and died on 1 May, 1920), and her mother was Hana Maraea, also a half-caste. Hohepa was born at Mataahu.

Hohepa's father was an Irish sea captain named Riley (Rire to the natives). [He might have been Captain Riley, of the whaler Hope, who paid visits from Sydney to the East Coast in the early and middle 1830's.] Awhenga, of Mawhai, was Hohepa's mother. Hana's father was a Scottish sea captain named Robert Gray (Papu Kerei) and her mother was Heneti, of Whareponga. Captain Peachey, of Te Araroa, told Hohepa that he had two half-sisters in the Waikato. Whenever Captain Riley visited Mawhai he took clothes and money for Hohepa, but the elders of his mother's tribe would not allow him to take the child away. In the middle 1850's Hohepa was a Christian native teacher.

[For these interesting notes the writer was indebted to Lieutenant Ngarimu's father and to Mrs. J. M. Reedy (an aunt), whose death, as the result of a motoring accident in the Wanganui district in June, 1944, caused widespread grief amongst the Ngati-Porou people. One of Lieutenant Ngarimu's cousins (Captain T. H. Reedy) had the misfortune to be made a prisoner of war in Germany.] Another cousin (Arnold Reedy) became the first Maori delegate to U.N.O. (Lake Success, U.S.A.; September, 1949).