Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Māori Battalion

I have said it before: New Zealand has no rich beret-history.
Although very few civilian (or Basque) berets are worn here, the military makes up for this.
Part of that military was the 28th Māori Battalion, part of the NZ Expeditionary Force during WWII.
The Māori Battalion was formed following pressure on the Labour Government by the Māori MP's and organisations throughout New Zealand, wanting a full Māori unit to be raised for service overseas, following in the footsteps of the Pioneer Battalion of WWI. The companies were organised along tribal lines.

The 28th Battalion saw action in Greece for the first time on 15 April, 1941, followed by actions in Libya, Syria and, after joining the 8th Army Campaign in North Africa, the battle of El Alamein. (German) Field Marshal Rommel described the Māori Battalion as the greatest fighting force he had ever seen.

After the North African Campaign, the battalion went to Italy, where at the battle of Monte Casino they took part in some of the fiercest fighting of the war, resulting in the death of 300 men. Cdr. General Freiberg commented: "No infantry had a more distinguished record, or saw more fighting, or, alas, had such heavy casualties, as the Maori Battalion."

Much more on the 28th Māori Battalion can be found at the battalions web site, here.

This picture is of Three Māori Battalion soldiers peering over the tops of barrels of preserved muttonbird sent from New Zealand for Christmas dinner, near the Senio River, Italy (December 1944).
Top picture is of Joseph (Hohepa) Takuta from Rotoiti, taken on the battalion's return from Europe in January 1946.

The berets are the heavy wool material variety, similar to what was in use in the British army of the time.


  1. Where can one purchase a 28 Maori Battalion beret of the kind described above? I would love to own one or two.

    1. Hi Tupak,
      I wish I could help you, with this one, but no, very difficult.
      Occasionally, I come across berets like these on sites like Ebay (search for WWII wool beret), but then you still need the right badge of course. The beret however, was identical to many units in Commonwealth armies of the day; try searching Army Surplus stores (online) in Canada and the UK...
      Hope this is of any help.

  2. Thank you sir.I thought it might be difficult. Thanks for the advice.

  3. were the berets issued as part of their uniform ? did they distinguish the wearer from the others of the battalion ? Im making a artwork for Muriwai School . Also my Nanny Maria always wore my papas beret , even in those official black and white photos . Im trying to find out what type of hats the men would have been wearing on the way home to Muriwai , as the Nannies stopped the train and dragged the local returning soldiers out the window , the whole village sang them to the marae .

    1. Kia ora
      Yes, they were issued as part of the uniform. Many soldiers in armies of the Commonwealth wore the same berets (which in the strict sense of the word are not "real berets" as they are made of various pieces of wool sewn together, instead of one long thread that makes a "real Basque beret).
      The berets worn by the Maori Battalion were identical to those of other unites; it was the beret badge that differed.
      I would love to learn more about your art work (and the photos of your beret-wearing Nan; you can always contact me on

  4. Kia ora Daan,

    Thx for the info above. I'm also part of a project to trace back and record the traditional games the 28 Maori Battalion may have played during WW2 and the Pioneer Battalion WW1. Thx for any leads.