David Rutherford: Why we need to honour our ANZAC legacy

David Rutherford: Why we need to honour our ANZAC legacy

April 22, 2016

It is Anzac Day again. In the last week I have been in two small places, Whangara and Eastbourne, from which young men left in World War One and World War Two. Many men who left never to returned. It is in these small places you can see and feel the impact of war. That is not to say the impact was not great in our cities as well but it is more obvious in the small places. It makes you determined put more effort into peace-making at home and abroad and the protection of the rights and freedoms they defended.

At the start of the World War One the racist British policies that restricted Maori participation in armed forces were finally lifted. At Whangara in 1914 the East Coast – Gisborne men who called themselves Te Hokowhitu-a-Tu (the seventy two warriors of the war god Tu) were fare welled at Whangara. Te Hokowhitu-a-Tu became the name of the Pioneer Batallion. Taranaki and Waikato Maori whose land had been confiscated understandably did not desire to respond to the call to fight for King and Country. Today our Army calls itself Ngati Tumatauenga, the Tribe of the War God, reflecting its dual European and Mäori heritage. It’s leaders understand that Tu has two faces. The other is Rongo the peace god. There is no iwi/kiwi dog whistle there. We have come a long way together in our Army.

In World War Two Whangara again fare welled its young men. This time from the whare Te Whitireia that Apirana Ngata overseen the building of. It was completed in 1939. The men of Whangara joined C Company of the Maori Battalion. 177 men of C Company died. Nearly 30 of those who died were from Whangara. Together with those who returned they are remembered at Whangara in the dining hall called Te Hokowhitu-a-Tu. Only a handful of those who returned are still with us.

At Eastbourne ANZAC Day will be remembered beside a pohutakawa planted in April 1915 in memory of Gallipoli. The service will be held on the road at the memorial which is part of the local primary school and then there will be a cup of tea at the Sports and Services Club where the RSA and a number of sports clubs are based. Before World War Two 27 young men, who did not return from the war, played rugby on the field outside those club-rooms. Today on ANZAC Day Eastbourne’s junior rugby players wear their rugby jerseys to the Anzac service to remember the 27 and those who fought and died with them.

These men from Whangara and Eastbourne and others from all over New Zealand fought together. At both Whangara and Eastbourne dozens of young men did not come home from war. It forces you to not only remember them, to be grateful to them, but also to remember why they went and be more determined that their descendants live in a country that lives up to principles they died for.

Some Maori were explicit. They said it was the price of citizenship. Fighting for the promises of the Treaty of Waitangi – for the equality and rights promised in the Treaty of Waitangi. These included the ancient and modern freedoms and rights of citizens in the common law and in statute going back to the Magna Carta. Our Government was clear too. It helped draft the Atlantic Charter and it signed the Declaration of the United Nations on New Year’s Day in 1942. That Declaration set out exactly what we were fighting for. We declared that not as the victors. We were losing in Europe, in Africa, in Asia and in the Pacific.

Yet on New Year’s Day 1942 New Zealand stood alongside our allies and we declared that:

“Complete victory over our enemies is essential to defend, life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice in our own lands as well as in other lands.”

“We are now engaged in a common struggle against savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world.”  

There was not a lot of balancing in that declaration. Our purpose was clear. Our purpose was to defend life, liberty, freedom, independence, human rights and justice everywhere for everyone. There was no false choice between privacy or security. Privacy was one of the human rights that we were defending, so were other human rights.  

Later in 1942 in Africa it was New Zealand, Australian and Indian troops who paid the greatest price in causalities at El Alamein but they stopped Hitler’s troops in their tracks. The first “United Nations” troops to do so. Some of them came from Whangara and Eastbourne, including some that died there.

In “The Price of Citizenship” in 1943 Apirana Ngata wrote “We are of one house, and if our Pakeha brothers fall, we fall with them. How can we ever hold up our heads, when the struggle is over, to the question, ‘Where were you when New Zealand was at war?”

When the war ended the principles in the Atlantic Charter and the Declaration of the United Nations were included in the Charter of the United Nations and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These contained a recipe, not always followed, for peaceful competition and cohabitation of the whole human race.

The sacrifice for citizenship, rights and freedoms and the one house was not immediately honoured.  

Maori veterans returning to small places were not allowed to drink a beer in the same pub as their Pakeha comrades. 1949 was a year of shame for the New Zealand Rugby Football Union and the RSA and for New Zealand. So soon after the sacrifice the all-white All Blacks toured South Africa.

Howard Kippenberger, the ex commander of the Second New Zealand Division and the then RSA President, strongly attacked the decision. He said if Maori were good enough to represent New Zealand at war they should be able to represent New Zealand at rugby too.

He said “I say it with some bitterness , Rugby is King and the dead are only bones.” He was attacked in the press and in letters to the RSA. This regrettably still happens today to those who stand up against racism. Sadly the RSA forced Kippenberger to apologise.

We have work to do to live up to the principles that people died for. If we are to truly remember them; our mountains must “ever be freedoms ramparts on the sea; “People of every creed and race” must live in peace in this place.

That requires us to stand firm on both feet. It requires us to look at our past, our present and our future with our eyes wide open. Wherever you remember the words of Te Hokowhitu-a-Tu ring true.


Ngā marae e tū noa nei 

Ngā maunga e tū noa nei 

Aue! rā e tama mā 

Te mamae te pouri e 

E patu nei i ahau inā

Lonely stands our marae and 

lonely stands our mountains, 

ah! for you, our sons, 

pain and deep sadness 

beats so deep within me.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner, David Rutherford

David Rutherford was appointed Chief Human Rights Commissioner on September 2011. Prior to his appointment, he was the managing director of Special Olympics Asia Pacific and based in Singapore.

He has held senior executive roles in building materials and agribusiness businesses operating in New Zealand and Australia, has been chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Union and has worked as a corporate, securities and commercial lawyer in New Zealand and Canada.