Māori Battalion diary - January 1942

After their return from Libya to Egypt, the Māori Battalion celebrated New Year’s Eve at Baggush, then returned to Kabrit and almost immediately resumed training. Another 241 men from the Sixth Reinforcements, based at Maadi, joined them to make good the Battalion’s losses in the Second Libyan Campaign. Bardia and Halfaya were taken and Rommel withdrew to Al Agheila.

Meanwhile, the Battalion was re-equipping and training for seaborne landings. 5 Brigade’s preoccupation with combined operations was a plan to land a force in the Gulf of Sirte behind General Rommel’s army while another motorised force went around his southern flank, but the idea was dropped when the German commander unexpectedly returned to the attack. By 21 January, Rommel had pushed the Eighth Army back to the Gazala line. There he rested, rebuilding his force for a fresh offensive. [1]

The New Year found the Battalion with 33 officers plus the doctor, padre and YMCA Field Secretary who were attached: 

  • Temporary Lt-Colonel: Humphrey Dyer
  • Captains: Tiwha Bennett, Charles Bennett, Chris Sorrenson, Ben Porter,
  • Temporary Lieutenant/Acting Captain: Rangi Logan
  • Lieutenants: Reta Keiha, Terry Gilroy, Gordon Ormond, Jack Ormsby
  • Second Lieutenants: Peta Awatere, Walton Haig, Ted Hayward, Syd Jackson, Ted Pohio, Jim Matehaere, A. E. (Duncan) McRae, Ted Morgan, K. P. Mariu, Ruhi Pene, Ben Ropata, Henry Toka, Hati Rangiuia, Tony Tikao-Barrett, Matt Swainson, Jim Tuhiwai, Kuru Waaka, George Marsden, Meta Francis, Jim Henare, H. T. Maloney, Paki West, Hupa Hamiora
  •  Attached: Capt. T. McDonald (RMO), Capt. Kahi Harawira (unit padre), Charles B. Bennett (YMCA)


  • 1 Jan: 0700 hrs reveille. There is no set syllabus of training for this day. 0800 hrs several officers proceed on special course; ic party Capt. Tiwha Bennett. IO spends day at 5 Brigade preparing war history with the other IOs of the Brigade. 1700 hrs A special dinner is provided, the whole Battalion messing together in the vicinity of the YMCA tent. The cooking was done in the traditional Maori manner and was greatly enjoyed by all ranks despite the dust storm which raged throughout the day. Heavy rain fell that night.
  • 2 Jan: Normal routine. YMCA Mobile Cinema Unit visits Battalion area this night.
  • 3 Jan: 0800 hrs departure of advance party for new area. ic party Lt Terry Gilroy. Remainder of the day is spent in preparation for move. Lt H. Maloney transferred to 5 Brigade HQ as the Battalion’s LO
  • 4 Jan: Move as per movement order.
  • 5 Jan: At first light the Battalion train party reaches Amiriya Station where a hot meal is provided. 1630 hrs arrival at Geneifa Station and continuance of move by MT to new area at Kabrit. Battalion location is the same as that which had been occupied prior to leaving for Libya.
  • 6 Jan: Normal routine with the Battalion settling in, and receipt of memo re commencement of 7 Days Survival Leave as from this day. Allocation: rifle coys - 8 each; HQ Coy - 12; Bn Hqrs - 4. 5 Brigade IOs attend conference re War History at Brigade Hqrs.
  • 7 Jan: Normal routine. 2/Lt Paki West transferred to Base Camp Maadi.
  • 8 Jan: 0700 hrs arrival of first lot of reinforcements approximately 241 all ranks. Normal routine. All officers’ pistols, binoculars, and compasses are returned to the QM Store. Strength decreases when a total of 19 ORs marched out to base camp for rest and recuperation.
  • 9 Jan: 0545 hrs reveille and companies move out for hot showers. Normal routine as per Battalion Routine Order no. 127, para. 4.  
  • 10 Jan: Battalion proceeded on a route march for the whole day instead. Returns for Tet Prop and TAB are called for by Battalion. The unit’s strength excluding officers was 733 ORs (incl. 3 attached). 2/Lts Kuru Waaka, George Marsden, Meta Francis, and Jim Henare joined the unit. This brought the total number of officers to 32 (2 of whom were attached). 23 ORs and 1 officer were still required to bring the Battalion to full strength.  Most of the gaps were in A Company.
  • 11 Jan: Normal routine with church parades. Owing to the absence of the Battalion Chaplain on a duty tour the chaplain from a neighboring Battalion, Capt. Chaplain D. Thorpe conducted the service. 1830 hrs a film was shown within the Bn perimeter by the Mobile Cinema Unit.
  • 12 Jan: 0600 hrs reveille. Bn is to move out on the commencement of maneuvers – pulling boats, scaling ladders etc, as per syllabus. The Bren Carrier platoon rejoins unit with 10 new Bren Carriers.
  • 13 Jan: Normal routine. 1100 hrs the first of a series of lectures on the Libyan Campaign “To Salum and Mu’said” was delivered by the Bn adjutant - Capt. Chris Sorrensen. Place of lectures is Kabrit Cinema Hall. 6% of Bn proceed on 7-days leave.
  • 14 Jan: Normal routine. 1100 hrs Capt. Rangi Logan - OC D Coy gives second lecture of the Libyan series “Action at Menastir”.
  • 15 Jan: Normal routine. 1100 hrs Capt. W Porter MC - OC A Coy delivers third lecture of series “Salum to Sidi Mgahreb”. 1300 hrs Coy Commanders and attached officers’ conference re tomorrow’s operation.
  • 16 Jan: 0630 hrs reveille. 0740 hrs Forward Coys of Bn leave per route march on operations. The remainder follows as per routine. 1100 hrs severe dust storm hampers operations. The Bn returns to camp after lunch, after a very rough crossing. Heavy seas drenched the occupants of the Assault Landing Craft (ALCs) and Motor Landing Craft (MLCs), while visibility was so poor that several craft had to return to the North side of the canal and bivouac the night on the beach, returning next morning.
  • 17 Jan: Normal routine which however was slightly modified by the fierce storm of yesterday, and which today is still in force although reduced in intensity slightly. Troops have to wear Shorts KD etc while battle dresses are still being dried. 1100 hrs the commanding officer delivers the final series of lectures “Gazala Box” and Capt. Charles Bennett speaks very briefly on the assault on Point 152. 1800 hrs a special concert is given by the Battalion to the Navy Personnel of the Kabrit Station, and also to a number of nurses from a nearby hospital. The unit’s strength excluding officers was 718 ORs. The total number of officers was 32 (2 of whom were attached). 35 ORs and 1 officer were still required to bring the Battalion to full strength. The following men received their commissions as 2/Lts: 25936 Herbert Marsden, 39614 Don Mitchell, 4388 William Vercoe and 39282 Matarehua (Monty) Wikiriwhi.
  • 18 Jan: Range practice shoot for all Rifle Coys and elements of HQ Coy, the usual Sunday routine being modified.
  • 19 Jan: 0330 hrs Commencement of Battalion night landing operations as per syllabus. At first light all coys having reached objectives set down in the Exercise, consolidate, and witness a mock dive-bombing and strafing attack on the enemy by 3 “Boston Bombers”. Other battalions of the Brigade as well as troops attached make successive landings along the beaches assaulting the enemy with heavy mortar barrages – thus combining as a whole in a combined offensive against the enemy. 0830 forward companies reach Battalion area in time for breakfast. The remainder of the day is spent with Battalion resting.
  • 20 Jan: Completion of combined operations for 5 Brigade. New syllabus of training adhered to with effect this day.
  • 21 Jan: Syllabus of training carried out for the day
  • 22 Jan: Usual training as per syllabus. Battalion sends 1 officer and 2 ORs to witness an RAF demonstration at Ismailia. 5 Brigade (less 28 Bn) move to new area and already the Advance Parties of 4 Brigade have established themselves in the Kabrit area.
  • 23 Jan: Range firing practices in the morning. The afternoon recreational period is devoted to inter-unit football matches.
  • 24 Jan: 2/Lts Peter Ornberg and W. Vercoe march in from reinforcements. Training as per schedule (Jan 20-31). See syllabus of training.
  • 25 Jan: Church parades. Captain Chaplain D Thorpe again conducting the service in the absence of the unit chaplain. Today marks the second anniversary of the 28 Māori Battalion since its establishment at Palmerston North.
  • 26 Jan: Continuation of unit training as per syllabus. Strength decrease in the Battalion as 7 officers have marched out to courses, transfers, etc: Ormsby, Charles Bennett, Sorrensen, Porter, Jackson, Henare, Pohio.
  • 27 Jan: The syllabus of training takes the form of a route march in the morning with the afternoon set aside for inter-company football matches. The standard of football played is high and all players have contributed to this standard by their keenness and zest in the various company games. The football has been fast, open in nature and hard throughout and the selectors should have considerable talent to choose a Battalion team from.
  • 28 Jan: Training according to syllabus. 2/Lt Roy Te Punga is marched in to Battalion as Intelligence Officer. 2/Lts Hupa Hamiora, Rangi Tutaki and Jim Aperahama also march in from reinforcements and are attached to the unit. 2/Lt Ted Pohio transfers to Composite Training Depot. A further 6% of Battalion personnel marched out on 7-days leave this morning.
  • 29 Jan: Maori Battalion has a 15 to nil victory over 5 Field Artillery. Pte Pitiera Mahima (D Coy) suffered a broken leg during the game. The Battalion is visited by Lt-Col Dittmer DSO  MBE  MC  NZSC. In an inspired address to the men of the Battalion Colonel Dittmer spoke feelingly of his deep interest and attachment for the Battalion. An attachment even more deep than he had felt for any other unit he had commanded previously. He was proud of the good work of this unit in the field of battle and he stressed and dwelt considerably on the minimising of casualties. In conclusion he said that he was returning back to New Zealand but however far and distant the Battalion may be, he felt that he was always part of the Battalion and would continue to help any member of the Battalion after the war was over. He terminated a really fine speech by wishing the men God speed and good luck for the future. Capt. Chaplain Kahi Harawira suitably responded on behalf of the Battalion. Thus, we farewelled a beloved leader. He had molded the Battalion since its infancy days and at Palmerston North and had suffered the trials and glories of his men as a true leader of men should. We, too, wish him the happiest of days in New Zealand.
  • 30 Jan: 0900 hrs Battalion moves out for field maneuvers. This exercise was an imaginary landing assault on enemy occupied territory with trucks taking the place of ALCs and MLCs. See report.
  • 31 Jan: 0900 hrs Battalion parade. 0915-1000 hrs passage of obstacles and open ground. Two companies land while remainder of Bn watch. 1300-1400 hrs interior economy (ie. housekeeping & tidying grounds). Remainder of afternoon free. The unit’s strength excluding officers was 707 ORs (including 4 who were attached). The total number of officers was 37 (3 of whom were attached). 14 of these officers, however, were either on courses, leave or at 5 Brigade HQ. 50 ORs were still required to bring the Battalion to full strength.

[1] Monty Soutar, Nga Tama Toa:  the price of citizenship, David Bateman Ltd, Auckland, pp. 208–210; Cody, pp. 179–180.


Archives New Zealand = Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga
28 NZ (Māori) Battalion Diary, WAII 1 1664 DA 68/1/25  

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