A new book on sale this Thursday provides unprecedented insight into the Māori experience of the First World War by retelling the life of Ngāi Tahu soldier Wiremu Maopo.
Through more than 40 letters to his friend Virgie Fincham at his home outside Christchurch, Wiremu depicts the robust contribution the Māori Pioneer Battalion made to the First World War – despite official attempts to keep them away from frontline duties.
Back home, friendly relations between Māori and Pākehā – embodied in the warm letters between Wiremu and Virgie – masked tragedy and discrimination. All of Wiremu’s siblings died in childhood or later in life and after the war, he ironically becomes the sole survivor of his once large family.
Wiremu had left for the war unaware that his Pākehā girlfriend Phoebe was pregnant. Her outraged parents told Phoebe that Wiremu was dead and forced the adoption of their daughter.
Neither Wiremu nor Phoebe ever learned the truth, and only now has the family line been revived by the work of Tania Simpson, a leading businesswoman who is Wiremu’s great-granddaughter.
“This is a personal story but one that sheds light on the sacrifices Māori made in contributing to the First World War, and the challenges they faced in early New Zealand,” she said.
The book will be officially launched at Ngati Moki marae in Taumutu, near Leeston, on Anzac Day.
The Life and First World War Sacrifice of Wiremu Maopo
Tania Te Rangingangana Simpson