Sir Bom Gillies wants Treaty equality between Crown and Māori

Source: 1News

The last surviving member of the 28th Māori Battalion wants a Treaty partnership for Māori, and an apology for how Māori soldiers were treated after the war.

The 28 Māori Battalion brought back more honours than any NZ battalion in WW2. Excluding mentioned in dispatches, the 28th brought 99 honours and awards home to Aotearoa.

This included the Victoria Cross, the highest battle honour of the Commonwealth, which was posthumously awarded to 2nd Lieutenant Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu for his actions at Tebaga Gap in Tunisia.

But Sir Bom Gillies, the last survivor of the 28th, says the honour and respect they earned with their blood was never fully repatriated.

Sir Bom, affectionately known as 'Koro Bom' to those in the know, spoke with media after receiving his knighthood on Wednesday, after initially turning it down. He explained why he accepted the honour.

"I accepted it on behalf of the 28th (Māori) Battalion and the Māori people, because their effort during the war was absolutely wonderful. Nobody else did a higher job."

He said he and his fellow warriors-in-arms were "downtrodden" and excluded when they came home, despite being told they would be equal with Pākehā if they fought.

"We came home and we never received our medals when we were discharged, and not only that we weren't allowed into the RSAs - they told us to leave and all that sort of thing."

Some whānau claim when their forebears returned from war, their farms had been taken and given to pākehā veterans instead.

Reclaiming taonga

Even though the 28 was the most decorated of the 11 battalions NZ sent to the war, they had to apply for their medals in the post.

The battalion war honours were omitted from their battle flag. This didn't happen to the other battalions, even though they had fewer awards.

"E hia te roa e tatari ana mō tēnā. Nā Hemi Henare i tono e hia tau ki muri. Tana hokinga mai, i tono ia, kia pērātia. Kāre anō kia mahia. (We've been waiting so long for this. Sir James Henare sought to rectify this years ago. When he returned, he tried to fix it. But it has yet to be resolved.)"

The NZDF recently started the process of awarding the medals unclaimed by soldiers of the 28th. Whānau of C Company soldiers received their ancestors' medals in a ceremony last month.

The military will continue the process for whānau of companies A, B and D.

Sir Bom Gillies being knighted at Government House

'Why don't they try peace for a change?'

Having seen the horrors of war, Sir Bom hopes the world will abandon the practice. Asked about his thoughts on the war in Ukraine, he took the side of peace.

"Why don't they try peace for a change? This should never have happened. It only costs lives. Civilian lives. All killed for nothing."

'The Price of Citizenship'

Likewise, he doesn't want the sacrifices of the 28th to be for nothing neither. That's why he wants the Crown to apologise for how Māori were treated after the war. But he wants more than platitudes and medals.

He wants what was promised to him when he enlisted, because the 28th was formed at the behest of the late Sir Apirana Ngata, who believed fighting in WWII would be the Māori way of paying what he called, "The Price of Citizenship".

READ MORE: How to claim the Māori Battalion medals of your tupuna

And Sir Bom, having paid that price, is coming to collect.

"I'd like to see us as a treaty partner," Sir Bom said. "I'd like to see them look through it again and make certain changes. That's what I'd like to see.

"Changes for mainly for our place in our country. At all levels. Because we still get knocked back."

Māori, he said, to this day are sometimes treated as second-class citizens.

"In a way we're still fighting for a place in our country."