Q: Who were they?
A: The New Zealand Pioneer Battalion (NZPB) was made up of a group of Maori and Pacific Islanders who had voluntarily enlisted for WW1. Formed in April 1916, the NZPB replaced the Maori contingent who had fought at Gallipoli. In mid 1917, men from Niue and the Cook Islands also joined the battalion.
The conditions on the Western Front were completely different from what many of the Pacific Islanders were used to. Despite the foreign and trying conditions these men contributed significantly to the war effort.
In total, about 2,500 Maori soldiers fought in WW1. Three hundred and thirty-six members of the Pioneer Battalion died on the Western Front. The descendants of 43 men, who contributed valiantly to the New Zealanders' success in Arras, France, have come together and formed a group called the “Kia Maumahara Māori Pioneers - Forgotten 43 “. Many of those who died are buried in Belgium.
Yr 7 - 8 Activity
1. History Mystery - find out what the object opposite is and its significance to the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion.
Dugout: (N) a hole, dug into the ground and often built around with timber or other material to offer protection or shelter.
Contingent: (N) a group of soldiers that represent a particular country or area.
Duckboard: (N) a raised wooden platform consisting of slatted wood. Duckboards were used as paths and platforms in trenches and in muddy and wet areas where walking or riding was difficult.
We only had four guns in action at Passchendaele at the start and then they made an effort to bring in the other two guns. Well, they put in an eight-horse team instead of a six-horse team to try and bring it in, but the horses just got up to their bellies in mud and they couldn’t get through. But a party of about 40 Maoris arrived. See, the Maoris were a Pioneer Battalion. They didn’t fight. They were just a labouring battalion, and the party of about 40 Maoris arrived and there were about 20 of these Maoris on ropes on the axles of the guns and, as Maoris do, they performed a bit of a haka or something and pulled the gun right in. We thought that was wonderful.
The Pioneers at Passchendaele
Bert Stokes, gunner in New Zealand Field Artillery
Q: What was their role?
A: As such a large proportion of Maori soldiers had died at Gallipoli, it was decided to limit their exposure to direct combat. As a result, the Pioneers' job was to carry out important labour and construction jobs on the battlefields of northern France and Belgium. They worked under dangerous and difficult conditions digging trenches and constructing much needed duckboard tracks to go in the trenches. They also built plank roads to help bring artillery to the front line, dugouts and shelters for the soldiers.
The NZPB were heavily involved in the construction of an 8km communication trench on the Somme. They also played a significant role in digging tunnels under Arras in northern France.