Four Maori Soldiers Buried in St Andrew’s Cemetery, Hornchurch

The sad story of four Maori soldiers buried in Hornchurch in the First World War is tragic. They travelled from the tiny island of Niue (1,500 miles north-east of New Zealand). New Zealand was their ‘home’ government and they went there before embarking for Britain. The journey to Britain1 went via Egypt, where they were trained. In France they fell ill in the gruelling conditions and were evacuated to Hornchurch for convalescence in May, 1916, dying a few weeks later.

They didn’t know, when they volunteered, that war was only one danger, “Pacific soldiers faced language difficulties, an unfamiliar army diet and European diseases.”2 They didn’t speak English and had never worn shoes. The army systematically devalued them because of institutional racism.

The minister of defence, James Allen, wrote to Major-General Sir Alexander Godley, commander of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, stating, ‘Although they [Maoris] are a coloured race I think it would be apparent on their arrival that they are different to the ordinary coloured race.’ 3

After training in Egypt they went to France and, like many Pacific born soldiers, fell ill. By late May, [1916] 82% of the Niueans had been hospitalised…The arrival of more than 100 Niueans in this small village [Hornchurch] had quite an impact on the local inhabitants, who went to great lengths to make them feel welcome.4

The flag awarded to the Maori battalion in 1918 when they returned to New Zealand

All four died in Hornchurch during June, 1916 from pneumonia. The Maoris were the very first patients in the newly established hospital for New Zealanders. They had no immunity to pneumonia and St Andrew’s churchyard provided both their grave and final insult. Their burial was, uniquely, in double graves. (see below)

They were recently honoured5 with garlands of beads and flags on their graves which are draped there permanently. This a poignant tribute to four virtually anonymous soldiers who travelled thousands of miles to fight for Britain.

Notes

1 It was about 14,000 miles to Britain by sea Sea route & distance – ports.com

2 They came from the island of Niue in the Pacific Ocean. Quote from Niue | NZHistory, New Zealand history online For the island of Niue See Niue – Wikipedia

3 Maori Contingent at Gallipoli – Māori in the NZEF | NZHistory, New Zealand history online

4 For the arrival of the Maori’s see Niueans and Cook Islanders – Pacific Islanders in the NZEF | NZHistory, New Zealand history online For the establishment of the hospital see Lost_Hospitals_of_London (myzen.co.uk)

5 For a very short discussion see First World War centenary: The New Zealand and Maori soldiers who enlivened Hornchurch during the conflict | Romford Recorder

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