"War is an extraordinary complex issue, it is hugely divisive… and it disrupts entire fabrics of societies." - Sir Wira Gardiner
In the wake of the country's inaugural commemorative day of the NZ Land Wars on 28 October Sir Wira Gardiner discussed the impact of war both in New Zealand and abroad.
At a recent symposium about War and Conflicts in New Zealand he provided insights in the Battle of Passchendaele, the Battle of Stalingrad, Māori involvement in World War I and World War II and the New Zealand Land Wars.
Earlier this month Wira Gardiner accompanied a group of students from Whangaparaoa on a school trip to Greece and Crete, while in Souda Bay the students performed a haka in front of the cenotaph to honour the 76 Māori Battalion soldiers who fought there and were killed.
"These young men from Whangaparaoa are related to mainly to Te Whānau-a-Apanui and Ngāti Pōrou…so they did the haka in remembrance to those who have given their lives, so you commemorate by underlying the fact that war is about people dying and people going missing." he said.
On 12 October he attended the Passchendaele centenary commemorations where Māori and pākeha soldiers performed a haka as a tribute to the 843 soldiers who died on the battlefield.
"One of the interesting things about the Passchendaele commemorations is it kind of signals a transition within our society about the role of Māori in war and in the fabric of our society, I think it reflects the information of tikanga (customs) and ahuatanga Māori (characteristics) within the defence forces in our country."
While recent commemorations this year have been marked by mass haka and the unveilings of Pou whenua (carved poles), he also believes that war remembrance can be memorialised in literature, monuments and hikoi (journey), one of the largest hikoi took place over forty years ago.
"About 600 veterans, families and friends went on a hikoi across the world and when you think about this it is quite a remarkable feat, people had to raise money, they had to get leave from work, they had to prepare themselves and had to go through this very emotional hikoi to go with their tupuna to the wars that they fought and probably the only time that most of them have heard about what their fathers, grandfathers or their uncles did."
The impact of the war was evident when Māori soldiers returned home.
"Those of us who are old enough know they didn't want to talk about war. They only wanted to talk about the war in the pub so if you were lucky to be in the RSA and crept up to a group of 28th Māori Battalion veterans you could hear what they were talking about, otherwise they would not tell you."
He describes the inaugural commemorative date of 28 October as an open question.
"There are some that say why would we commemorate a day with every else, just like in Whakatane we commemorate the signing of the treaty on the 16 June because that's when we signed it."
He says the assertiveness of iwi running their own commemorations like Ōrakau and Te Ranga and the petitions and pressures in the last decade have built to an extent that government had to recognise these kind of events.
Sir Wira Gardiner is an author, historian and former public servant. His iwi connections include Ngāti Awa, Te Whanau-a-Apanui, Te Whakatōhea, Ngati Pikiao. He is Chairman of Te Putake o te Riri War and Conflicts in New Zealand Fund that supports iwi, hapū and whanau lead commemorative NZ Land Wars events. He is a council member on the board of Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi. His book Te Mura o Te Ahi: The Story of the Māori Battalion was published in 1992.
In 2008 received a knighthood for services to Māori and is currently writing his next book about B Company of the 28th Māori Battalion.
Thanks to Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi for allowing RNZ to record and broadcast this series.