This year our city is commemorating streets named for members of the 28th Māori Battalion who distinguished themselves during World War II: Anaru Place, Dittmer Drive, Henare Street, Huata Place, Katene Street, Pitama Road, Ruha Street, Te Punga Place and Wikiriwhi Crescent.
The signs on these streets are now all embellished with the iconic red poppy, increasing the number of Poppy Places in Palmerston North to 15.
They join World War One related streets commemorated last year: Anzac Park, Carroll, Chaytor, Freyberg, Marne, Martin and Russell Streets. Streets recognising Palmerston North's Victoria Cross recipients will be added to the project within the next 12 months.
Mayor Grant Smith says many people may not know that the names of the nine streets commemorated this year relate to the brave and valiant men who volunteered, served and fought with the 28th Māori Battalion. Identifying them through the Poppy Places project is a way to honour the whole battalion, he says.
“They left to serve our country in 1940, after training in Palmerston North. Today we still honour them. They were fearless men. Their battalion received more individual bravery decorations than any other New Zealand battalion.”
The street names were established in 1964, when the Awatapu subdivision was developed. At that time, Brigadier George Dittmer was contacted to give his thoughts on the naming of streets after 28th Māori Battalion soldiers, and provided a comprehensive list of soldiers who had served under him.
Terry McBeth, chairman of the New Zealand Poppy Places Trust, says: "Palmerston North is to be congratulated as a significant contributor to the project, which now involves many local authorities from Auckland to Invercargill and from New Plymouth to Napier.
“Registering these places on the trust's national database, recording the personalised stories about their original naming, and marking the street signs with the poppy will ensure future generations will understand more of their local history.”
Major Wi Patene Anaru was a distinguished commander of the 28th Māori Battalion, participating in multiple campaigns in Europe and the Middle East from 1941-1945, and also serving six months with J-Force in 1948.
A highly decorated career soldier, Lieutenant Colonel George Dittmer was the commanding officer of the 28th Māori Battalion from 1939 to 1942. Post-war he served as commandant of the Central Military District, New Zealand. It was Dittmer who put forward a list of distinguished soldiers names from the Battalion to the Palmerston North City Council for commemoration.
Lieutenant Colonel James Hēnare spent most of his time with A Company of the 28th Māori Battalion, also serving as a platoon commander and company commander. He led the company in its last action in North Africa, and in Italy at Orsogna and Cassino.
Padre Wi Huata arrived in the Middle East in 1943 and served throughout the Italian campaign. Energetic in all things affecting the welfare of his men, he showed great courage and proved himself a worthy representative of the 28th Māori Battalion. He was awarded the Military Cross for his tireless efforts in Italy.
Lieutenant George Katene left New Zealand with the Second Echelon of the Maori Battalion in 1939, and he served in Greece and Crete, eventually taking part in the fighting in North Africa where he was wounded. He recovered in time to participate in the landing in Italy, serving with the Eighth Army's advance forces.
Sergeant Eutahi Tahu Mataa Pitama served with distinction throughout the Egyptian and Libyan campaigns, being awarded the Military Medal for his actions at Munassib.
Arriving in the Middle East in 1942 as part of the Sixth Reinforcements, Lance Sergeant Harold Ruha Ngarimu proved to be an integral part in the legendary assault on Takrouna by the 28th Māori Battalion. He also led his men through Italy in the battles for Orsogna and Cassino.
Te Punga Place
Serving in Crete, Libya, Greece and Italy, Major Hamuera Paul Te Punga played an integral part in leading the men of D Company of the 28th Māori Battalion throughout multiple campaigns.
Captain Matarehua Wikiriwhi served most of his time with the Intelligence Section of 28th Māori Battalion Headquarters. For his actions at Takrouna he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, being one of only two New Zealand lieutenants to be so honoured. He commanded B Company during the first attack on Cassino, February 1944, where he was badly wounded.