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Impressions - Pilgrimage Cruise of the 28th

This article appeared in the April 1978 NZ 28 Maori Battalion Tenth Reunion booklet.  

Impressions - Pilgrimage Cruise of the 28th

Compiled by Rev. Canon W. T. Huata, M.C., 817470, 28th N.Z. Maori Battalion

Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the famous Commander of the German Afrika Korps, once said, "Give me a Maori Battalion and I will conquer the world." For these New Zealand soldiers had the reputation of being some of the best courageous fighters in two world wars, winning many decorations for bravery on European battlefields. But "the desert fox" also told one of his staff officers in North Africa that if ever he met Maori soldiers he should remember that they had two sides - they were warriors equal to any but they also feel the importance of things spiritual.

These two sides were united this summer in a massive pilgrimage undertaken by Maori veterans with their families, along also with Pakeha from New Zealand and Australia (Pa-village, Keha-white). Six hundred men, women and children flew in three groups to Europe and then cruised through the Mediterranean, visiting former battlefields. It turned out to be as Brigadier Sir William Hall, National President of the Returned Services League of Australia, predicted, "an unforgettable experience" for all who took part. Gallipoli, Crete, El Alamein, Taranto, Monte Cassino, Takrouna, Italy, Florence, Sangro - the names of some of these "battlefields" revive vivid memories for those in their 40's or over. But to the younger members of the party, it was an introduction to their parents' past, which up till then had been just pages in their history book. Some families who had lost several members on the battlefields clubbed together to make it possible for one of the younger generation to go. All who went raised their own fares. The owner of the ship which took the veterans through the Mediterranean made it available at considerably lower than the normal rate as her contribution - she had lost sons in the battle of Crete.

As the ship was sailing past Cyprus news was received of the death of Archbishop Makarios. It was customary, the Padre of the 28th N.Z. Maori Battalion, Major Chaplain Wi Te Tau Huata, M.C., and the 28th Cruise Executive, informed the Captain that on such an occasion they should call in, so the Captain interrupted the voyage, and the Maoris were invited to sing at the President's funeral in the Cathedral. The whole party visited the Holy Land and two of the groups were received in Rome by the Pope.

Accompanying all three groups in Europe was the sole surviving Padre of the Maori Battalion, Rev. Canon Wi Te Tau Huata, M.C., who had taken part in the campaigns and been awarded the Military Cross. It was the fulfillment for him of an experience that began six years before on a previous visit to Europe.

At a reunion of the 28th Maori Battalion in Christchurch Cathedral in 1972, he described what had happened to him when he had joined a charter plane with 121 people from the Pacific to attend a Moral Rearmament Conference in Caux, Switzerland:

As I flew towards Gallipoli to Mount Olympus and then up the coast of Italy, the memories came back after years when we used to pray "God, destroy the German people and wipe them off the face of the earth!" Because of that cancer of bitterness he had been ineffective for years, he told the 1200 Maori veterans of two world wars, who had assembled together with another 600 men who had fought in Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam. The issues used to divide men, he said, might vary from continent - between French and English. In Canada it was language, in Southern Africa or the United States it was race and colour, black and white, in Northern Ireland it was green and orange - but basically the elements of division were the same bitterness, hatred, prejudice and resentment. He had decided to end them in his own life - starting with his bitterness towards the Germans.

Before leaving Europe that summer Canon Huata had returned to the scene of one of the hardest fought battles in which his peoples had been involved, Monte Cassino, where the monastery had been destroyed in the battle. There he conducted a service and included the Germans. He said to the monks, "I have heard that you people are bitter. Take me to your highest point." This they did. At the top he pointed down. "There are my boys down there. You are lucky, you have a new church. I cannot take my boys home. They died to give me a chance to tell you that I am sorry for my bitterness." A monk knelt and kissed the Padre's hand - and a service was held together in the monastery. The following year, 1972, the Canon was one of the Maoris invited to the Afrika

Corps' reunion in Mainz, Germany.
There he apologised to the 9,000 men present for his bitterness. He described his experience flying over Monte Cassino and his prayer for the destruction of the German people. "I had not realised my prejudice," he told the German ex-servicemen, "and I am sorry now for my prayer. We came over to die for Europe. I believe we should fight together and live for Europe under God." Now this year, 1977, Canon Huata was one of an army of his fellow countrymen and women in a new peaceful expulitionary force from down under. New Zealand's foreign minister, Brian Talboys, described his honouring of the commitments and sacrifice of their fellow countrymen as "a worthy commemoration."

For Padre Huata, one of the high points of the tour was the service of forgiveness on Crete. When the allied forces had to evacuate the mainland of Greece in May 1941 the defence of Crete was entrusted to a New Zealander, Major General B. C. Freyberg, V.C. But only three weeks later the Germans launched an airborne assault and between 20th and 31st May, when the evacuation of troops from the island was completed, hundreds of gallant New Zealanders and Australians were among the Commonwealth troops killed. They lie buried at the Souda Bay Cemetery. To quote Lt. Col. P. Awatere, D.S.A., M.C., "White crosses testify their mana lives for aye." When the Maori veterans arrived on the island, some without limbs, lost in the battle, they relived the scenes of the conflict, remembering with elation, the places where they had fought, and in some cases had moving reunions with Cretan guerrillas who had guided them through the mountains.

An outdoor service in Maori style was held at the German cemetery. Maori women stood vigil, dressed in black, representing the soldiers. Speaking to the 600 people present, Canon Huata said, "Our Lord said, greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends." The sacrifice made by these men they made for a particular country at a particular time. What we have done here is to say thank you for giving us the chance to have freedom. We will remember you by telling the whole world that you have fought for peace. It is only by taking bitterness out of our hearts that we will save the world."

Ringahora Ybelle Huata believes that the experience of these summer months strengthened family ties, bringing together husbands and wives, sons and fathers. It also, she says, unites Maori with Pakeha who enjoyed fellowship with each other and both with their former enemies. "Never before have I seen a touring group pay tribute to our soldiers," said a Turkish senior officer who met them at Gallipoli. "I feel humble," said an Italian General. "I will be responsible for looking after the Commonwealth Cemetery."

A serving General participated in the service of Crete. The Maori word for enemy is HOA-RIRI, which translated means FRIEND-ANGER. "So it is easy for us to forgive for we were angry at the time," says Canon Huata. With the anger gone the enemies became friends. To quote the President of the 28th Maori Battalion (N.Z.) Association, E. D. Nathan, J.P., "E hara taku toa it te toa taki tahi, engari taku toa, he toa takitiwi!" (My strength is not only in my right arm but in my people. Unity is strength.) The address of the elder with the necessary rhetorical expertise (Padre Wi Huata) commending the dead for their exploits in life, apologising for the delay, releasing their spirits, and farewelling them to the ancestral fold."

The Pilgrimage 600 could only sense most of this and recognise that a ritual was being performed, but they too, were visiting the graves of comrades in arms, reliving experiences which occupied some of the best years, and cast them in .a certain mould for better or for worse. We could all take part in the singing of the Maori hymns, the beauty of which sung in the perfect harmony of Maori voices 'brought a tear to many an eye.' To quote Ted Russell, Timaru, South Island -"Pakeha were sensitive to another important difference between their attitude to the pilgrimage and the attitude of the Maoris. In the 28th (N.Z.) Maori Battalion its personnel were grouped in companies, not only in the usual military sense, but also according to their tribal affiliations. Thus it was possible that whole families would be found in one company, brothers, cousins, nieces and nephews, and even father and son. In the Pakeha units trouble was taken to separate brothers so that the possible tragedy of two or more members of the same family becoming casualties in the same action was at least minimised, but not so with the Maoris. In the war cemeteries that we visited a mourning for families could be sensed and if the Pakeha felt excluded, he understood and was in sympathy. And so the pilgrimage progressed from country to country."

We started in Greece and next visited Turkey. The visit to Istanbul was not of particular significance, but for many it was their first introduction to the East. Our arrival at Istanbul at dawn brought some lines of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam to mind "And so! The Hunter of the East has caught the sultan's turret in a maze of light." How expressive and how apt in this city of domes and minarets and turrets! One sunny afternoon our ship, having sailed down the Dardeneelles on our return to the Aegean Sea, passed close by the site, with memorial wreaths to those who died in the 1915 Gallipoli campaign. The thoughts of many were suitably expressed by Father Henare Tate on the public address system. After all, we were of the generation which knew all about Gallipoli from our school days. Anzac Day was revently observed in our formative years, and the story of Gallipoli was at the very root of our nationhood.

If I now hurry over a visit to the port of Kusadasi, from which we visited the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus where the Virgin Mary lived and where St Paul preached and the burial place of St John and the places of the seven churches named in the Book of Revelation: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Sardis, Thy-a-tira, Philadelphia and Laodicea; and from there to the island of Patmos where St John lived and wrote the Book of Revelation and there to Crete.

Crete was an important call from the point of view of the pilgrimage. We arrived on the 21st May, 1977, on the very day of the annual celebration of Crete's remembrance of the Battle of Crete, which took place on 21st May, 1941. Just as significantly the Cretans commemorate on the same day, their liberation from German domination on 21st May, 1945. How we were welcomed and entertained and feted! A simple gift to each one of us consisting of a little pottery container of honey inscribed "For remembrance of our friendship-Chania 1977" is a prized possession. From Crete to Alexandria was the next leg and of course a visit to El Alamein war cemetery the first objective. The ritual was carried out but on this occasion, a surprised awaited: Who among us would have thought that, as we entered the cemetery and began to approach the central memorial, Egyptian pipers would have struck up a Scottish lament? They piped from the roof of the entrance hall and as they stood silhouetted against the Egyptian sky, our association with the 51st Highland division at the Battle of El Alamein was symbolised, and I for one choked back what could have been a serious show of weakness in a male.

Our visit to Cairo was nostalgic but a little disappointing. Hardly a land mark did we recognise. The wily oriental gentleman was exactly as we remembered him, and we doubted whether anything had moved from the shelves and window displays in the bazaars of Alexandria and Cairo. The pyramids and the Sphinx certainly had not changed, nor had the camelsteers with their demands for baksheesh and smokes. And was it hot! We wondered how we had lived there for those years. The time at sea between Alexandria and Haifa was a welcome relief from the heat of Egypt, a time to recuperate from our exertions and a time to convalesce from the cryppy-tummy, from which many suffered on arrival at Haifa, a principal port of Israel. We immediately became conscious of the security which guards this young nation. The ship was searched from stem to stern and frogmen even examined her underwater. Once cleared, however, we were made to feel very welcome by a party from the Ministry of Tourism and military representatives. One word epitomises Israel's relationship with its neighbours and the rest of the world -"survival". Hence its national security, its national military training for young men and women; its intense national pride, its productivity and its constant state of military readiness.

Our visit was to this modern Jewish Israel, but just as importantly, we were visiting the cradle of Christianity. In two days and in two hours we were to visit Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Cana, Nazareth, Tiberias, Capernaum, the site of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, on the shore of Lake Galilee, pass by the mount from which Jesus' sermon on the mount was preached, paddle in the River Jordan, swam in the Sea of Galilee, and to try to absolve the atmosphere of antiquity and modernity which exist side by side. Thirty-six years earlier I had visited this country for the first time and typed a four foolscap-page letter home on my impressions. What I had written then still applied, for in revisiting the church of the Holy Sepulchre, walking again the Dolorasa, revisiting the church of Nativity, I was to find nothing had changed. Perhaps I have changed though! When the bus stopped in view of Canan and I listened to Padre Wi Huata read the story of the miracle of the water turned to wine, when I saw the same Padre kneel in obvious reverence at the birthplace of Jesus, and when I recalled the reconstruction of the life and times as written by Lloyd C. Douglas and stood in the places where it all happened I was convinced, as never before, that the man Jesus lived and taught right there.

It was near Jerusalem that the singing of a Maori hymn had considerable impact. We were taken by our Jewish guide to the site of the Jewish memorial to the 6,000,000 Jews who were killed in the Nazi persecution of the Jewish race. We were ushered into a synagogue and on entry, the men were asked to observe Jewish custom by covering their heads with little cups issued at the doors. Once seated we were treated to a very long discourse on the history of the Nazi persecution. The speaker had an excellent command of the English language and could summon up in his expression the hate which the Jews still feel for the Nazis and keep alive, by bringing their school children in droves to this place. At the end of his talk the speaker asked for questions. One questioner asked why Hitler so hated the Jews. The answer contained that almost incredible statement that it was believed that the Christian church had encouraged and kept alive the hatred felt for the Jews in the stories of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Padre Wi Huata got slowly to his feet and said, "Sir, this is not a question, but I feel that I would like you to know something of the nature of our pilgrimage. Ours is a mission of peace. As we entered Jerusalem we were told by our guide that Jerusalem means 'City of Peace', and it is our hope for you. Now that the city is no longer divided, that you will know real peace in Jerusalem. We will now sing one verse of hymn so and so." The Maori Christian hymn was sung with feeling in the Jewish synagogue, and no other answer was needed to the Jew's hate for the Nazi which still dominates his life.

We needed a time at sea once more to recuperate, and this time it was between Haifa and Rhodes. In quick succession we visited Rhodes, Delos, Mykanos and Santorini all lovely Greek islands. All are similar in building styles, in the nature of their residents, in the wares for sale in their many tourist shops, and yet they are all different. Rhodes is remembered for its fortress style buildings and cascades of purple mixed with white leanders. Delos is a barren little island with interesting ruins and lizards. Mykinos is a delightful whitewashed place with windmills and is remembered as the place where Ned Nathan, the President of the 28th Maori Battalion (N.Z.) Association, translated from Maori to Greek at the giving away ceremony of a Maori girl resident to her prospective Greek husband. And if you would like to live on the rim of an extinct volcano crater, then Santorini would be the place for you. Crowded hours, sun drenched views of idyllic isles and sand sleeps at the close of each exhausting day.

Unexpectedly we revisited Souda Bay in Crete for a short stay to take our fresh water. It was like returning to a well-known and well liked place at home. We made straight for our favourite bars, with tables and chairs arranged under the mulberry bush trees on the side walk. But don't mix the green chairs with the blue tables, they belong to opposition business. Our largest sea journey was to follow. It took three days to get to Sfax, a phosphate port in Tunisia. The reason for the call was the military cemetery. There the Maori Victoria Cross, 2nd Lieut. Te Moana nui a Kiwa Ngarimu is buried, along with other New Zealanders.

From Sjax a trip by bus was organised to Takrouna. This is a hill near Tunisa at which the last stand was made by the German forces in North Africa and at which the Maori Battalion made the successful attack on this stronghold; fleeting memories of those days of the North Africa campaign came back with memories of our pride in having been a part of the 8th Army. It was Sir Winston Churchill who said at a parade of the army at Tripoli. "If, when this conflict is over, you are asked what you did, it will be sufficient for you to say, 'I marched with the 8th Army." It was now 7th June, and in another ten days we were to arrive in London.

The final stages of our cruise were busy ones, for in quick succession we visited Malta, Messina and Capri, and arrived at Naples for a slightly longer stay. Malta was a delightful place to visit and the shops closed at noon. However, the afternoon programme was a full one, with a parade at the Island's War Memorial, followed by a visit to San Angelo Fort, which is the naval headquarters. At 5 p.m., with everyday once more back on board Semiramis we sailed for Messina. We had another full day at this main port, the island of Sicily, shopping, gharry riding, eating at our first Italian restaurant, and sampling the wine. Evening saw us under way again. Next morning Capri was in sight from daylight. From the time we eventually landed by launch until we returned at midnight, Kiwis swarmed all over the island. Up the cable car by bus to Anacapri, by chairlift to the very top most peak, on foot through the paths and byways, and by taxi if we were too foot sore to do it any other way. An enchanting place, very highly commercialised, and swarming with tourists, but friendly and warm.

Two hours from when we sailed at 6 a.m. saw us berth at Naples, and from this base the pilgrimage had important places to visit. Of course we shopped and saw the city by taxi, by cable car, and on foot. We taxied to Pompei for 30,000 lire and visited the ruins. We saw the city at dusk from top of the Ambassada Hotel and stood on the fringe of a political rally outside the post office. A large party had gone to Sangro for the day. An all day trip by five air-conditioned buses over some of the best roads in the world, the auto strada took us to Bari on the Adriatic coast. This was not the peasant country we knew during war time, for not a square yard seemed to be wasted. Crops of cereal, sugar beet, groves of olives and citrus fruits and very large areas of grape vines, particularly on the Adriatic coast plain, met our gaze the whole day long. The visit to Bari war cemetery was an impressive one, assisted as we were by a detachment of Italian soldiers and attended by our N.Z. Ambassador.

Next day was yet another good day on a trip to Cassino, where there was another war cemetery. We were again assisted by an Italian detachment of soldiers and a trumpeter. For many this was to be the last cemetery, and it was an impressive service, if a sad one for Padre Wi Huata, who had buried nearly everyone there. Many of the men were looking for the landmark they knew, especially as we drove up to the monastry on Monte Cassino. It was destroyed by bombing in March, 1944, and here it was completely rebuilt. It was soon after noon when we arrived and none of the monks of the St. Benedictine Order were to be seen. When this was remarked upon it called forth Father Tate's famous phrase that they were "out the monk". By 6 p.m. that evening we had put to sea again and arrived at our last Mediterranean port of Civitavechia at 8 a.m. the next morning. First ashore were a large party going to visit cemeteries at Florence Faenza and Forli while the rest of us set off by rail for Rome.

What else would one do in Rome but go to St. Peter's, the Coloseum and other ruins. The Victor Emmanuel Monument, the fountain of Trevi, and drink in the sight and sounds of this wonderful city. The next day, however, was to be the real highlight, as we were conducted by Padre Wi Huata and Father Tate, to a public audience with the Pope. The large audience hall held 10,000 people and our seats had been reserved right in the front. The Pope was carried into the hall just after 11 a.m. from the back, right up the centre aisle. Father Tate had a presentation of gifts from the Maori people ready, and was able to make them personally to the Pope through the adoption of a little determination to get past protocol. The Pope made a long speech of welcome to pilgrims from every country in the world, and in response to the Maori welcome, a spirited haka was rendered under the unexpected attack by Padre Wi Huata. Now we must hurry on and leave behind these balmy Mediterranean days. We had hardly seen a cloud for a month and no more than a few spits of rain. Tomorrow we would be in London, but first there was the packing, and what a packing. Souvenirs picked up here and there, post cards, booklets, clothes fancied but perhaps never to be worn again. All made extra tight suitcases. We had had enough of cruising and foreign languages and heat, and to be greeted on board our BOAC Trident by lovely English voices was music to our ears. We lifted off from Rome airport at 1 p.m. and our flight over the Swiss Alps and France took no time at all. At 3.30 p.m. we were installed in the Eurocrest Hotel and straight into baths and the most comfortable clothing we had.

We were not used to the privacy of these commodious rooms, and it was not long before we were all looking for each other up and down the passages. What followed were crowded days of receptions at N.Z. House, doing the sights of London, riding the tubes, taking taxis and double decker buses, calling on London friends, taking out cut lunches and meeting every evening for meals in our hotel rooms. Only one official parade was called and that was at the Cenotaph in White Hall. While the traffic stopped for ten minutes we had our little service and wreath laying and in some ways this was our best performance, our crowning experience. We could hear our feet as we marched and we had to do our best for the Londoners looking on. We were all ready to go home on Sunday, 26th June, when finally we took off from Heathrow Airport by Singapore Airlines 747 Boeing in the late afternoon. After 16 hours we landed at Singapore, having touched down at Paris, Athens, Bahrain and Bombay. An overnight stay in the Holiday Inn Hotel and a day to be conducted around Singapore, was a welcome break between that leg and the next nine flying hours to Auckland non-stop. A cheer burst up as we touched down at 9.30 a.m. and the formalities of our entry through Customs presented no difficulty for most people.

Different people will have reacted and benefited, or otherwise, in different ways from this pilgrimage tour. Living in the south as I do, I have very little contact with the Maori people, and for me the trip was very much an adventure in human relations and in race relations. Let us not kid ourselves that because we are all New Zealanders, we are identical in outlook. Personally, I slightly carried the average Maori for his simplicity in his attitude to strong family ties, his adherence to his religion, which inevitably contained a delightful blend of his own mythology and Christianity, and for his happy nature. I am better for having travelled with this mixed racial group and now that I have revisited the Middle Eastern war time battle zones "I am satisfied!" To quote Padre Wi Huata:

The 28th Cruise Pilgrimage was the chosen pilgrimage to go through many countries, especially three great countries, and what it meant to us usually. When Pontius Pilate wrote the inscription on the Cross in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, it was the three great varieties of national life. The Jew, with his bible and his religion and his hope of the Messiah, the Greek with his flexible language, the universal language of civilisation, making a vehicle for the Gospel message; the Roman welding together in the strong framework of the Empire, the incoherent provinces and peoples on which Christianity was to act. The 28th Cruise also went through three missionary journeys of St. Paul.

There were the Greeks, the proud eager, restless, beautiful Greeks, with their noble art and literature and philosophy, and their love of the beautiful and their poetic imagination which people Mt. Olympus with the Gods. To this day the whole civilised world looks to these ancient Greeks with wonder and gratitude. We are to them the best of our culture. Above all things they stood for culture, never was any nation prouder of its culture. Never had any nation better reason to be proud. Today we were visiting ruin after ruin. Henry Walker, from Te Kaha, said, "If I had to see another ruin, I will be ruined for life." The Greeks made culture above God.

Then there were the Romans. The Romans were the masters of the world. It was a proud boast, a member of the great empire with its wise laws, its splendid armies, its boundless wealth, its worldwide rule. Rome was the personification of pagan power and pride and mastery. That was her imperial ambition. For that she kept her unconquerable armies; for that she trampled weaker people into the ground. The Roman was the superman. His kingdom was utterly a kingdom of this world. It was a brave, splendid, magnificent world. We were admiring it. Today we were visiting many ruins. One said, "How did the Christian live?" It was asked by Roka Paora, from Te Kaha. The Roman made power above God. We saw the Coloseum fill for 30,000 spectators.

The Greek, the Roman, and the Jew. Mysterious, miraculous Jew, the one race set apart, with their genius for religion, their worship of the one holy God; their complete Old Testament as we have it, today. They were everywhere. Think what it meant to have in every city the worship of the one God, holy and pure; men with a spiritual vision of sin and righteousness; men with the inspired bible in their hands; men with the eager outlook for a golden age in the future. When the Messiah should come to bless the people of God. I had an experience at the Wailing Wall, the sanctuary of the Jewish world. Because they were a narrow and bigoted people, who placed the rule of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, when the Messiah came they knew him not. Now, the great city of peace, Jerusalem has now become a challenge not only to the Jews but to the whole world. I want to say Jesus speaks to me, "This have I done for you, what doest thou for Me?" When we saw Jerusalem we spoke in our hearts-How wonderful and Holy our old people. God be with you.

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