New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion

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New Zealand (Maori) Pioneer Battalion
Soldiers on the anti-aircraft guard of the New Zealand Pioneer Maori Battalion camp, Bayencourt, France.jpg
Soldiers on the anti-aircraft guard of the New Zealand Pioneer Maori Battalion camp, Bayencourt, France
Active 1915–1919
Country  New Zealand
Branch Crest of the New Zealand Army.jpg New Zealand Military Forces
Type Pioneers
Size ~900 personnel
Part of New Zealand Division

First World War

Disbanded 1919
George Augustus King

The New Zealand (Maori) Pioneer Battalion or Native Contingent and Pioneer Battalion was a battalion of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force that served during World War I. The battalion was first raised in 1915 and served at Gallipoli and the Western Front and largely served as pioneers.[1] "Of these by the end of the war, 2227 Maori and 458 Pacific Islanders had served in what became known as the Maori Pioneer Battalion. Of these, 336 died on active service and 734 were wounded. Other Maori enlisted (and died) in other battalions as well."

Departure and garrison duty in Egypt[edit]

The battalion first departed New Zealand in February 1915 aboard the SS Warrimoo, they trained in Egypt, but were initially assigned to garrison duty. Under the recommendation of Major-General Alexander Godley, the regiment was initially assigned further garrison duties on Malta, but despite the pleas of the Minister of Defence, James Allen and Maori MPs, the battalion was sent to Malta.

Service at Gallipolli[edit]

Increasing casualties among the Anzac forces during the Gallipoli campaign led to the deployment of the battalion. The battalion arrived at Anzac Cove on 3 July 1915. Here they joined the New Zealand Mounted Rifles and were employed as soldiers. In 1917, the battalion was renamed the New Zealand Maori (Pioneer) Battalion.[2] After the attack at Gallipoli there was considerable criticism of three officers of the Maori Pioneers who were charged with desertion in the face of the enemy. The GOC General Godley, sent them home but he was persuaded by Maori politicians not to break up the battalion as had been his intention.[3]

Service on the Western Front[edit]

The Pioneer Battalion performing a haka for Joseph Ward at Bois-de-Warnimont, 30 June, 1918

It was intended that the Pioneers would be broken up and serve as reinforcement for other New Zealand units on the Western Front. However after a short time the unit was reunited and served the rest of the war as pioneers digging trenches,doing farm work,laying railway lines and erecting wire entanglements. Each company consisted of soldiers from Maori iwi(tribes) who were traditional allies. Nearly all iwi who supplied soldiers were from kupapa(loyal) tribes such as Ngati Porou who supplied so many volunteers they had their own company. Ngati Maniapoto,who served in significant numbers, despite being a kingitanga iwi(tribe ), were paired with Cook Island Maori. In late August 1916, the Battalion was sent into the battlefield at the Somme, and began work on an 8 KM communication trail known as 'Turk Lane.' At Messines Ridge, the battalion suffered 155 casualties and 17 deaths. At the conclusion of the war the unit was involved in an unpleasant incident when a group of Maori soldiers, possibly suffering battle fatigue,started shooting in a rest camp. When an officer was sent to investigate he was shot.


After the war, the battalion was the only battalion of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to return home as a formed body and toured throughout the country.


  1. ^
  2. ^ NZEF Gradation List. London: New Zealand Expeditionary Force. December 1917. 
  3. ^ New Zealand History on line. Maori Pioneer Battalion.