This article appeared in the April 1992 NZ 28 Maori Battalion Reunion booklet.
2nd Lieutenant Albert Te Auheke Bennett
My father was not a man to talk about the war and as an Historian I would probably know more about the exploits of other members of the Battalion than I do about my father. But there is one story that I have heard extolled by many orators throughout New Zealand.
By Raniera Kingi, Keepa Ehau, Matarehua Wikiriwhi, Canon Wi Huata and my two grandfathers Rewiti Kohere and Bishop Frederick Bennett.
It is a story about my father and mother. It is a love story and it is a story that becomes immortal in that; it is the miracle of life amidst death, destruction and despair.
PART ONE - THE BATTLE OF MONTE CASSINO
In 1943 Alby Bennett was leading the Arawa Platoon in the Battle of Cassino when they took shelter behind some stones of a bombed out ruin. Alby had always felt that he walked with the wairua of his dead daughter Rangioue and that at all times he was accompanied by the sounds of her cry. As he lay crouching he heard the ominous sounds of a machine gun cocking and firing and then the thud of a bullet hitting his side.
His last conscious thought was of his daughter's cry leaving him, never to return. But her wairua did not leave him, because that first bullet entered his stomach and exploded out his back and that in itself should have killed him.
It is the second bullet that makes his story unique in the annals of the Maori Battalion, for the slug entered him directly at his heart. He was wearing a leather jerkin over his battledress and the slug went through the jerkin, through the pocket of his battle dress, through his identity papers, through the first of two lira coins but somehow lodged in the second of the lira coins. The slug pierced his skin millimetres from his heart but the coin caused a trampolining effect and the slug rebounded from him to lodge securely between the two coins in his pocket.
Alby was seen to stumble and fall and was seen to lie lifeless until in the ebb and flow of battle his comrades were forced to retreat. But he did not die and later a German Officer found him, saw the circumstances, took compassion and had him removed to a German Military Hospital where under severe stress the German surgeons were able to operate and save his life. The story became so well known amongst the Germans that they later presented him with the two coins, his identity photos and the slug in a specially made frame. These are still treasured possessions of his family.
The official battle statistics of this particular part of the battle for Monte Cassino were 12 killed, 95 wounded and 1 prisoner of war. That one being Alby.
PART TWO - THE HOME FRONT
In those days the families back home were informed that the soldiers were missing presumed dead. After three months with no news they were confirmed dead and then the traditional mourning ceremony would be enacted. This then is the sequel to Cassino.
Three months and three weeks later the tribes were preparing the great meeting house of Tama-te-Kapua for Alby's tangi. His wife Oha had a vision.
She was sitting next to a mound of earth when she looked up and saw her husband standing with his arms outstretched. She rose to embrace him when he said, "No, darling, wait until the four months have passed and then we can truly embrace." Oha ran to her mother and Mrs Taiporutu Mitchell who was there to comfort her. "Don't be silly daughter. In your time of suffering you have seen the parable of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Accept the fact that Alby is dead." "But he isn't," she stated, "And I will not accept it until next Monday when the four months have passed."
On the morrow Oha refused to go to the tangi but finally went under sufferance. She refused to allow the elders to display Alby's photograph. Laughing and joking with her young friends, when asked to respect the dead, she would say, "But he is not dead," and continued to be jovial. On the third day two teenage girl friends Rui Winiata and Annie Panapa who were workers at the Post Office came into the Wharenui laughing and dancing. When they were reprimanded they shouted with glee "But he is not dead."
Four months to the day a warship off the coast of Australia had intercepted a German Radio message confirming that Alby was a prisoner-of-war.
Forty years later, after a distinguished civilian career Captain Albert Te Auheke Bennett J.P. returned to Tama-te-Kapua for the beginning of his second and final journey to be with his ancestor Tumatauenga and his beloved daughter Rangioue at Te Rerenga Wairua.