For many years now, the The Ngārimu VC and 28th (Māori) Battalion Scholarship Fund Essay Competition has given Māori students the chance to express their thoughts and feelings on what the legendary battalion – a cornerstone of New Zealand’s identity – means to them. In order to keep the competition relevant to young Māori of the 21st century, the re-vamped Ngārimu VC and 28th (Māori) Battalion Scholarship Fund Board Challenge means that entrants can express themselves via the media of our times; media they’re perhaps more used to speaking to the world in. Education Gazette takes a look at one group of boys who gained a new appreciation of what it meant to be among the ‘men’ – some not too much older than themselves – who found themselves on the other side of the planet facing the reality of war.
Pere Durie dons a number of hats on any given day at Tauranga Boys’ College. He’s leader of the Ngārimu House; in class, he’s teacher in charge of media studies; and he gives his time as a Māori achievement mentor. He’s discovered that every one of these roles has relevance to the Ngārimu VC and 28th (Māori) Battalion Scholarship Fund Board Challenge. That’s aside from the fact that he will in 2015 be leading an expedition of some 40 young men on the same journey that their ancestors took more than 70 years ago. This time, the expedition should get there a good deal sooner, and the journey won’t be quite as uncomfortable as that endured on the troop ships that left New Zealand for Europe and North Africa all those years ago.
At a school with more than 400 Māori pupils, the 28th Battalion has relevance to most curriculum areas, but Pere says that ultimately it’s among the best examples he can think of to engage students in a discussion about Māori leadership and service to others.
Concepts of leadership aligning to the Māori tradition are also explored by students at Tauranga Boys’ College through the Tama Tū programme, which looks at models of leadership relevant to academic excellence. This initiative requires young men to give up their own time and get involved in challenges that sometimes demand a cool head under pressure; a quality that’s also exemplified by the heroes of the 28th Battalion. The Ngārimu VC Challenge was perfect in this sense also, says Pere.
Four of Pere’s Year 9 Tama Tū group put their hands up to get involved with the Challenge, and came up with the idea of re-creating some of the hardships that members of the 28th Battalion might have gone through in World War Two, with a focus on one of the battles that shaped the reputation of the battalion as a fearsome fighting force: the near year-long battle of Monte Cassino, a crucial turning point of the Italian campaign.
The boys chose Monte Cassino when they realised that there are geographical similarities between their local area and the landscape in which the battle was fought: Mount Maunganui makes for a pretty close analogue to the mountain fortress that the Allies spent nearly a year wresting from the control of Axis forces. The group decided to put themselves through some of the same hardships – at least in a physical sense – and document their experiences and thoughts on camera.
First, research had to be conducted. Pere says that there’s no better way for young men to get in touch with the reality of war than for them to meet those who were actually there: so that’s what they did, through a meeting with veterans of the New Zealand Battle of Crete Veterans Association.
“A big eye-opener for our boys, I think, was to go from hearing stories from whānau and reading stuff to actually meeting people who were physically in battle.
“It’s also a maturity thing for these boys. Boys will be boys, I suppose, and they’re known for being fascinated by war, aren’t they? In one sense, these boys are quite youthful in their discussions, like they might be impressed by tanks and guns and what-not, but our investigation, and meeting with the veterans, and going through the NVC Challenge process, has opened their eyes to the ugly reality of war: sometimes it’s something that has to be done to protect values and property and that sort of thing, but the truth is that people – their friends in some cases – can be killed in the most horrific violence imaginable.”
The boys chose what Pere describes as a ‘Bear Grylls’ approach: an attempt to put themselves through a series of physical challenges that mimic as far as possible a real-life emergency situation. Though they – hopefully – can expect never to know the terror of battle, they could simulate the physical struggles that the young Māori men of the 28th Battalion went through, says Pere, and try to imagine what doing these things would have been like under fire.
“For example, one of the tasks was moving from point A to point B carrying a lot of gear, in the same way that the Māori Battalion soldiers had to move very rapidly with big loads on their backs. They reflected on what it would have been like if there had been landmines and snipers and that sort of thing.”
After thoroughly exhausting themselves on camera on the slopes of the mountain, the boys edited the video and added a touch of realism with sound effects of armed conflict.
Though it was a fun exercise for his group, Pere says that the real upshot of their participation in the Ngārimu VC and 28th (Māori) Battalion Scholarship Fund Board Challenge was a new awareness and respect for the sacrifices made by the 28th Battalion; something that’s particularly relevant to all members of the group, who can proudly count among their ancestors men who were actually there when it mattered, who answered the call to help protect the values of a free society, some of whom paid the ultimate price and never came home. Pere hopes that the experience has contributed to their development as mature, well-rounded young men who are mindful of the past and its relevance to their own future.
“Really, we’ve tried to help these boys grow beyond that boyish fascination with guns and battles; of the boys who made the film, I think all of them had family members who were in the battalion. It was about introducing these boys to ideals that are greater than themselves, ideals that the members of the battalion embody for Māori and all New Zealanders. Things like brotherhood, self-sacrifice, determination, seeing things through, and fighting for what’s right.
“Sure these are boys of 13, and maybe they need a few years behind them before some of the finer detail really sinks in, but the challenge was a great chance for these boys to do something fun and different, and at the same time gain for themselves some insight into what really is a terribly tragic chapter in New Zealand’s history. It was a fight that had to be fought, and we can all be really proud of the Māori Battalion’s bravery and determination.”
The inaugural winners of the Ngārimu VC & 28th (Māori) Battalion memorial challenge are
Intermediate Māori 1st place:
Rongomai Callaghan and Atareta Smith-Taumata, Gisborne Girls’ High School for Māori Battalion Tū ake e, a music video. Value $800.
Senior Māori 1st place:
Te Aramoana Brady, Te Kura o Te Koutu for Waewae Mongamonga, a haka. Value $1000.
Senior Māori 2nd place:
Hine Kawana, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Mana Tamariki for Ngā Tore Kai Huruhuru, an essay. Value $700.
Senior Māori 3rd place:
Tumanako Bidois, Te Kura o Te Koutu for Te Maimai Aroha, a haka. Value $350.
Junior English 1st place:
Sasha Quinn, Rangikura School for Remembering my Koro, an essay. Value $600.
Junior English 2nd place:
Kaiwhiri Pita-Grey, Tauranga Intermediate for Was it Worth it? an artwork. Value $350.
Junior English 3rd place:
Sasha Brown, Janaya Leef, Britney Emery,Shani Henare, Tauranga Intermediate for 28th Māori Battalion, a song. Value $150.
Intermediate English 1st place:
Wiremu Leef, Tahuriwakanui Durie, Anaru Palmer, Ryan Collier, Tauranga Boys’ College for What Was it like at Cassino?, a film. Value $800.
Intermediate English 2nd place:
Rongomai Callaghan and Atareta Smith-Taumata, Gisborne Girls’ High School for Māori Battalion Tū ake e, a music video. Value $500.
Senior English 1st place:
Hariata Dalton-Reedy, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Waiū o Ngāti Porou for Where my Grandfather Lies, an essay. Value $1000.
Senior English 2nd place:
Caleb Bird, Te Awamutu College for March to War, a musical composition. Value $700.
- Hariata Dalton-Reedy, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Waiū o Ngāti Porou for Where my Grandfather Lies, an essay.
- Rongomai Callaghan and Atareta Smith-Taumata, Gisborne Girls’ High School for Māori Battalion Tū ake e, a music video.