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

“Lest We Forget”

Lest We Forget

District's Early Defenders and Its Heroes Overseas

The first military unit to be stationed in Poverty Bay was a section of the Forest Rangers, which was placed at Te Arai after the Siege of Waerenga-a-Hika (1865). It was disbanded early in 1866, and, in July of that year, the Poverty Bay Militia (Major Biggs, commander) and the Poverty Bay M.R. (Captain Westrup in charge) were established. Every able-bodied man was required to enrol in the Militia. Neglect to report within 24 hours after arrival in the district cost a newcomer one guinea. Upon being sworn in, a recruit was handed a rifle and given the page 344 option of joining up with the Mounteds. A section of the Armed Constabulary (then a military unit) was stationed in a redoubt at Mata-whero in 1869, but it was brought into Turanganui in 1870 whilst the township was being surveyed. Ormond then became its H.Q. Its status was changed to that of a police unit in 1874.

In 1872 the Poverty Bay Militia consisted of: No. 1 Company, at Gisborne; No. 2 Company, at Matawhero; and No. 3 Company, at Ormond. The parades were held at Ormond, and absentees were liable to a fine not exceeding £5. By 1873 the training had become perfunctory, and the Standard inquired: “What on earth is the use of a batch of men being required to assemble once a quarter, without arms, simply for the purpose of having their names called over and to get a payment of 4/-?” Waiapu had a Native Militia in 1874. The Poverty Bay Militia was disbanded in February, 1875, and the Poverty Bay M.R. in 1876. Some of the former members of these units joined up with the Gisborne Rifles Volunteer Corps, which was formed on 6 June, 1877. The Makaraka Rifles (established in 1877) amalgamated with the Gisborne Artillery Corps (formed in 1877) to form J Battery, which was Gazetted on 3 December, 1878.

Volunteering soon reached a high pitch of popularity in Poverty Bay. When J Battery received a six-pounder Armstrong field gun in March, 1880, it gained a large number of additional recruits. [A twelve-pounder was obtained in its place in July, 1886.] The Gisborne Rifles, Cook County Rifles and Ormond Rifles also became strong units in the early 1880's. In 1886 a cadet corps was formed, but the Government declined to avail itself of the services of a Naval Volunteer Artillery and Torpedo Corps, for which 65 recruits had, within 24 hours, agreed to enrol “for the defence of the port.”

Formed in 1887, the East Coast Hussars attracted town as well as country members, and, under Captain G. J. Winter, soon became a very efficient unit. They were disbanded in 1892. In December, 1898, the infantry units became the Gisborne Rifles, with Captain J. Warren in charge. The East Coast M.R. were established on 24 February, 1900, under Captain Winter, who was succeeded, in turn, by Captain J. H. Colebourne, Captain J. Tombleson, Captain C. Hellier Evans and Captain C. J. Hamilton.

The Poverty Bay-East Coast Defence District was represented in the Boer War (1899–1902) by a commander of two New Zealand contingents (Colonel T. W. Porter), 10 commissioned officers (Captains B. Arthur and C. R. Neale, and Lieutenants W. T. Pitt, W. E. Langford, R. H. Trotter, G. B. Carter, F. S. Barton, E. A. Rees, G. A. C. Simpson and R. H. Porter), 25 n.c.o.'s, 126 troopers, and Nurse N. Redstone. Trooper I. S. Hurrey was killed in action, and Trooper H. R. Kirkman died of fever. Sergeant M. Pickett gained the D.S.M.

Compulsory military training came into force on 1 June, 1911. Apart from the junior cadets, there were, then, three military units in Poverty Bay: Gisborne Rifles, Gisborne Defence Cadets and the East Coast M.R. In 1913 the Territorial forces in Poverty Bay comprised: 188 mounteds, 262 infantry, 506 cadets and 78 rifle club members.

The World Wars

When war became imminent in Europe in August, 1914, applications to enlist poured in at Gisborne, and, whilst the voluntary system remained in force, the district invariably provided more than its monthly quota of European recruits. The New Zealand Maori Recruiting Board, which included Sir James Carroll and Sir A. T. Ngata, called for Maori volunteers. It was intended to send one company of Maoris to Samoa page 345 and another to Egypt for garrison duty, but, with the approval of the British authorities, both were despatched first to Egypt and then to Malta. In June, 1915, they were allowed to join in the fighting on Gallipoli, and, in February, 1916, they went to France as part of the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion. When the Poverty Bay-East Coast section returned to Gisborne on 8 April, 1919, its members were entertained at a monster hui.

A memorable Queen Carnival was held at Gisborne to swell the Patriotic Funds. It had been organised prior to the outbreak of hostilities by the City Band with the object of augmenting its own funds, but, in May, 1915, it became a patriotic activity. In all, 2,658,109 votes were sold, realising £22,060. Further entertainments brought the aggregate up to £26,268, and the net surplus was £21,202. The contest resulted:

  • Miss Norma Loisel, “Uawa County,” 984,440 votes.

  • Miss Kathleen Fromm, “Sports,” 456,370.

  • Miss Mary Taylor, “Waiapu,” 374,087.

  • Miss Ivy Parker, “Cosmopolitan Club and Commercial Travellers,” 310,827.

  • Miss Vera MacDonald, “Waikohu,” 231,812.

  • Mrs. A. Zachariah. “Territorials,” 111,517.

  • Miss Rita Caulton, “Rowing,” 75,414.

  • Miss Gladys Cooper, “Friendly Societies,” 50,215.

  • Miss C. Cumming, “Motoring,” 36,621.

  • Mrs. Grayson, “Cook County,” 26,806.

The handsome war memorial alongside Kaiti Esplanade, Gisborne, was erected in honour of the district servicemen who fell during the Great War of 1914–18. A marble statue of a New Zealand soldier, with bowed head and arms reversed, surmounts a lofty shaft set upon a massive pedestal. On each corner of the square plinth is a pediment on which lies an outstretched lion with upraised head. Wide, shallow steps lead on each side to the plinth. On the four walls of the pedestal are bronze tablets bearing the names of the heroes—561 in all—inscribed in high relief. The monument, which was designed by Mr. E. Armstrong (a young Gisborne architect) was unveiled by Colonel C. W. Melville, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., on 25 April, 1923.

Upon the outbreak of the Second World War in September, 1939, the scenes at the Gisborne Defence Office were reminiscent of those which had been enacted at the opening of the earlier conflict. Offers to enlist flowed in from young men in all walks of life. Interest among the Maoris was heightened when the authorities agreed to their request that the Maori Battalion should, on this occasion, be placed on the same footing as the pakehas throughout the war. Wing Commander Colin Gray, D.S.O., D.F.C. and bar (son of Mr. L. Gray, of Gisborne) became New Zealand's top-scoring fighter pilot. After the war he was appointed Deputy-Director of Allied Air Co-operation and Foreign Liaison in the British Air Ministry Both Lieutenant-Colonel Reta Keiha, M.C. (born at Gisborne) and Lieutenant-Colonel Arapeta Awatere, D.S.O., M.C. (born at Tuparoa) rose to O.C. 28th Maori Battalion.

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).

District Wartime Activities

The Legion of Frontiersmen in Poverty Bay recruited a voluntary Home Defence Force of about 250 members in May, 1940. Major H. Miller, M.C., was the O.C., and Captain T. G. Nowell his 2 I.C. It had to be disbanded when the compulsory Home Guard unit was established on 2 August, 1940. Major Miller became the first O.C. of the new body, which, in August, 1941, was transferred to Army control. In August, 1942, Major C. A. Smith became the O.C., with Captain E. L., Adams his page 347 2 I.C. The first division comprised 650 men and the second 150. On account of the calling up of so many members either for service in the Armed Forces, or to assist in essential industries, there was a heavy turnover in personnel. In all, about 2,000 men did Home Guard service in Gisborne. Early in 1945 the organisation was disbanded.

The National Military Reserve (“Nat. R's”) was mobilised for full-time defence duties in Gisborne in January, 1942. Many of its members had served in the First Great War. Poho-o-Rawiri was its headquarters. The first O.C. was Major E. R. Black, M.C. When Major J. W. Bain returned from overseas service he took over-There were also an Independent M.R. unit and an Air Training Corps in Gisborne.

A Gisborne Emergency Precautions Service was established to handle any civil emergency that might arise on account of enemy action. At the peak the enlistments totalled nearly 3,000. All civilian adult males up to 65 years were required to enrol. Many women joined voluntarily, and others were recruited through a branch of the Women's War Service Auxiliary, of which Mrs. V. F. Wise was the leader. Unit controllers—Wardens: W. Keith (chief) and C. V. Harre, J. Peach, W. Sherwood, H. A. Dear, E. Grabham, J. R. Samson, J. H. Walker, R. C. Knowles, S. P. Sheppard, E. J. Poswillo and A. L. Campbell; Works and Services: J. Gunn, F. Matthewson and W. Harnett; Medical (including members of St. John Ambulance Association and Red Cross Society): M. J. White; Evacuation: T. G. Johns; Fire (including members of the Fire Brigade): B. S. Bree; Reduced Lighting: F. R. Ball; Transport: B. H. Wilcox; Marine Transport: Captain G. McK. Smart; Law and Order: Police Inspector D. McLean; Supplies: L. Balfour; and Communications (including members of the Post and Telegraph Department's staff): A. M. Robertson.

Specialised units included a bomb disposal squad (under G. H. Tresadern), denial of resources squad (L. Miles), an anti-gas squad (E. A. Woods) and others set up by various State departments and local bodies. Food depots were established in the country districts, and plans were made to enable the town to be evacuated (if necessary). The members of the wardens' units were required to patrol the streets nightly to ensure that the “blackout” restrictions were strictly observed. N. H. Bull (the mayor) was chairman of the council of controllers, R. Morse deputy-chairman, and W. M. Jenkins treasurer. The initial organiser was T. A. N. Corson, and then J. A. Mackay became organising secretary.


Major Alexander Gerald Beere (born at Picton in 1863) settled in Gisborne in 1884, and joined up as a gunner in J Battery. Previously he had served in the Wellington Guards for four years. In 1900 he received a commission in the East Coast M.R., and, later, he had charge of the Gisborne Rifles. When compulsory military training came into force in 1911 he became O.C. 1st Battalion, 9th Regiment (Wellington-East Coast Rifles). In 1939 he went to reside in Australia.

Colonel George John Winter, V.D. (born in Tasmania in 1844) was educated at Brighton College, England. Upon his return to Tasmania he was trained as a surveyor. In 1865 he moved to Invercargill, but, a few months later, came on to Poverty Bay, where he saw active service at the Siege of Waerenga-a-Hika and in the engagements brought about by the Te Kooti revolt. He gained commissioned rank in the P.B.M.R. in 1872, and, in turn, became captain of the Gisborne Rifles (1877), J Battery (1878) and East Coast Hussars (1887), and then, with the rank of major, O.C. No. 4 Battalion, Wellington-East Coast M.R. (1900). Posted to the retired list in 1906, he was granted the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He was one of the district's earliest “rep.” footballers and cricketers, took a keen interest in rifle shooting, and acted as honorary starter for several racing clubs. For many years he was people's warden in connection with Holy Trinity Church. He died on 10 March, 1919.

Adolphus Frederick Hardy (born near Liverpool in 1840) came of a naval family. He served on H.M.S. Banshee during the Crimean War, and, during the Indian Mutiny, he was present at the Relief of Lucknow and the taking of Delhi. He came out to New Zealand as a lieutenant on H.M.S. Brisk. Gaining his discharge, he saw active service in the Waikato, the Wanganui district, on the East Coast, and in Poverty Bay. For some years he was accountant to Captain Read, and then he took up farming. He was chairman of the Poverty Bay Highways Board for three years. When the Egyptian War broke out in 1882 he was recalled to the Navy, and was present at the Bombardment of Alexandria. His father page 348 was Admiral Joseph Hardy, and his grandfather was Captain (later Sir Thomas) Hardy (“Kiss me, Hardy,” of Trafalgar fame). He died in March, 1920.

Captain Frank M. Twisleton, M.C. (born in Yorkshire in 1867) served in the Boer War and published his interesting experiences in book form. Settling in Waimata Valley, he became the first O.C. the Poverty Bay branch of the Legion of Frontiersmen. In the Great War of 1914–18 he served on Gallipoli, where he was severely wounded. Going on to France, he was attached to the Pioneer Corps. He died of wounds on 15 November, 1917.