Te Rau Aroha

Te Rau Aroha was a mobile canteen, purchased in New Zealand by donations from children in native schools.  When it was first seen  overseas the inscription on the side brought tears to many of the soldiers.  It read "He tohu aroha na nga tamariki o nga Kura Maori o Niu Tireni ki te Ope Whawhai o te Iwi Māori e tau mai ra i te Pae o te Pakanga i te Mura o te Ahi".  Charles Bennet the Y.M.C.A. representative operated the canteen.  He was affectionately known to the men of the Māori Battalion as Charlie YM.  After the Battalion returned to New Zealand Charlie YM drove Te Rau Aroha to every school that had contributed money towards the truck

The following excerpt is taken from a draft written for Soutar's Nga Tama Toa, 2008, p. 194.

Te Rau Aroha first made its appearance in the Maori Battalion lines when they were in Lybia in November 1941.  While the officers were meeting with Lt-Col Dyer, the vehicle pulled in and began serving the soldiers. This canteen had been paid for through the fund-raising efforts of school children in the native schools in New Zealand, a fact made abundantly clear to the soldiers by the written tribute posted on the sides of the vehicle. Padre Harawira, who was disappointed that the officers never got to bless the vehicle before goods were distributed from it, told Ngata that the men were deeply moved at the sight of the gift:

To te pakeha nei ahua kuare ki a tatou nei ture. I te Officers Conference ke matou nei, huri rawa mai matou, kua puare ke. Kua timata te pihapiha i nga taonga o roto ... E Api, heke ana te roimata i te mea e korero ana i nga tuhituhi.  Ae ra, e te whanau ma tae mai ana ta koutou taonga ki te mura ra no o te ahi.[1]

This Pakeha was unaware of our customs. We were at an Officers Conference and no sooner had we turned around and the canteen was opened. He had begun giving out the supplies of comforts from within it ... Oh Api, tears fell when we read the writing on it. Oh yes, families at home, know this, your gift has reached the very heat of battle.

While Henry Shove, the YMCA commissioner, might have been ignorant of Maori protocol his well-meant gesture was genuinely appreciated. How he came to be in Lybia with the canteen is a commendable tale, worth recording here. When the truck arrived at Baggush back in Egypt, the commissioner thought it would be opportune for the Maori Battalion to see the gift while they were on the frontline. After discussing the matter with Colonel Dittmer, who by that time was back in hospital in Baggush, Shove and the association 's secretary, Charlie E. Bennett (affectionately known to the Maori soldiers as "Charlie-YM") set out for Lybia. For part of the long journey they were accompanied by armoured vehicles; at other times they travel alone. They skirted the enemy's defences near the frontier and after travelling for 3 picked up the Battalion's trail at Sidi Azeiz. "It was necessary in delivering it to drive over all types of desert country," wrote Shove, "sand and rocks of all kinds, including one very steep track on the escarpment. There was not the slightest difficulty in negotiating any of this country.[2]  The two YMCA representatives had brought with them tins of tobacco and cakes of chocolate and they gave every soldier one of each. While the goods were intended for the Maori Battalion, everyone was welcome, even the Pommies. The gift from their people helped to cheer the Battalion's spirits, as did the rum issue and the wine that the lads turned up.[3] When he got back to Cairo, Shore wrote Ngata about the visit and assured the Maori leader the YMCA were looking after the Battalion's interests:

... our organisation is doing everything possible for the welfare and comfort of the Maori troops.  For many months now we have had Mr Charlie Bennett attached to the Maori Battalion and he has given them a very satisfactory service. Our biggest and best marquee has been used as a Maori canteen and Mr Bennett has had for his use a new desert 3-ton fargo .. .. Please accept my own personal regards and assurances that we all have a very warm affection and unstinted admiration for the gallant troops of the Maori Battalion.[4]

The YMCA was an essentially Christian organisation. Its staff and mobile canteens were as indispensable to the soldiers as each unit's chaplain. Through Charlie-YM's constant efforts to get the Te Rau Aroha truck up to the frontline, Maori soldiers were supplied with comforts in every campaign. "Probably no more amazing sight was seen in the war," says the Chaplain's official history, "than the Maori Battalion YMCA truck lumbering over the desert to its Battalion.[5]

See more about Te Rau Aroha and Charlie YM.

[1] Letter, Kahi T. Harawira to Ngata, 30 December 1941, MS Papers-6919-0782.

[2] Letter, H. W. Shove to Ngata, 19 December 1941 , MS Papers-6919-0782.

[3] Letter, I. Whakarau conceming activities of 28 NZ (Maori) Battalion 14 November 1941 - 1 January
1942, WAll DA 4421244, NA

[4] Letter, H. W. Shove to Ngata, 19 December 1941, MS Papers-6919-0782.

[5] M. L. Underhill et aI., 1950, New Zealand Chaplains in the Second World War, War History

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