Friday, April 22, 2011

ANZAC DAY (Part Two), "the price of citizenship" .



I strongly recommend the book Nga Tama Toa: The Price of Citizenship, C Company 28 (Maori) Battalion 1939-1945  by Monty Soutar. Even Monty's presentations on how the book came to be is an emotional roller coaster  and a revelation to many. 


Monty, with his team of researchers spent 16 years interviewing and collecting stories from C Company soldiers and their families. What resulted is a huge collection of narratives; sad, truthful, heartwarming, horrifying, informative and uplifting. 


The book tells us about the people from Eastern Bay of Plenty to the south of Gisborne, marginalized in their own country and treated as second class citizens. Maori were not allowed to drink in pubs and did not receive the same benefits and status as their pakeha neighbours. In the first world war Maori soldiers had a supporting role well away from the frontlines and were not treated as worthy of equal military status. On their return they were not offered the financial assistance that pakeha soldiers were, no gifted farms or subsidies or loans to improve their land, nothing.


C Company were nicknamed the Cowboys by other battalions because most lived on isolated farms and horses were a common form of transport. Many of the C Company boys had never been to Gisborne let alone overseas. The stories of their departure were emotional ones, many had lied about their ages and were as young as 16. Once becoming soldiers they were kept in accommodation in Gisborne and isolated from their families until their departure. There were stories of young men punching holes in the surrounding corrugated iron fence with their bayonets so they could see and say goodbye to their mothers.


Once away overseas and on to the battlefields these innocent young men drew deep from their collective whakapapa and the connections with their warrior past and scared the living daylights out of their enemies. Their hakas shook the battle fields and their courage and intensity of purpose saw them become the driving force of any campaign they were part of. They fought hard and with considerable distinction, experienced some horrific battles and suffered heavy losses.


Those who were lucky to return home were changed men, many were permanently damaged by what they had experienced. However, nobody questioned them when they wearily entered pubs on their return and asked for a beer. They had achieved citizenship in their own country, but at a massive cost.

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