William H.A. Willbond MSM, CD

New Zealand Maori Hero, LSgt Haane Manahi and Canadian Hero Medic, Cpl Ernest W. Poole

Thank you Vince for sending me
this story of a brave Maori
Let’s go against that broken rule
and also right the wrong for Cpl Poole!

Citations that come from up the front
about brave men in battle
should not be changed or re-arranged
far away from the machine gun’s rattle!

Sgt Haane Manahi, DCM
and Cpl Poole, were a couple of men
who were recommended for the VC
but alas, the award was not to be?

You and I we can ask why?
Was this a political blunder?
Perhaps our Queen, once she has seen,
she’ll ask why, these recommendations went under?

Korea Vet News – Independent Internet Publication – January 6, 2006
Dedicated to the sacrifice and indomitable spirit of Canada’s Korean War Veterans

Victoria Cross
Victoria Cross
Is it possible to restore a Victoria Cross Recommendation after British officers knocked it down to a DCM? (No denigration of the Distinguished Conduct Medal implied)

Maori Veterans are trying to do it

Korea Vet News recently issued an edition that focused on a Canadian Medical Corps Corporal, Ernest W. Poole. He had been approved for the award of the Victoria Cross for his bravery during the Korean War by the highest-ranking Canadian officer in Korea.

However he did not receive Canada’s highest decoration because a British major general thought his brave deeds did not merit it. The British officer, who was commander of the First Commonwealth Brigade, knocked it down to a recommendation for a Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Korea Vet News put forth the opinion that perhaps the situation ought to be reviewed with a 21st Century mindset. The object being to perhaps somehow or other right the record and have the recommendation restored and submitted to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth for “Royal Assent.”

The rationale is that Canadian soldiers who served in Korea were answerable only to Brigadier John Rockingham (and his successors). The Canadian Government had made it clear in special orders to Rockingham that the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade was a distinctive Canadian entity.

Legal chain of command for the Brigade flowed from Rockingham to Canada’s Chief of the General Staff (CGS) in Ottawa. Orders Rockingham received through the operational chain of command in Korea – whether American or British – were passed on to Canadian troops only at his discretion. In other words, he had full control and command of all Canadians in the theatre. Nobody else did.

In matters in which he did not concur with military authorities in the larger operational structures the Canadian Brigade functioned with, he was ordered by his Government to directly contact his CGS. He was ordered to do that directly, at any time, without having to go through the operational chain of command of any foreign military structure he had affiliated with. He was the top Canadian authority in the Korean War theatre.

Korea Vet News

The buck stops here! Brigadier John Rockingham served as supreme commander of all Canadian troops in Korea. Nobody else could mess with them, and that was made clear in orders he had received from the Canadian Government. Allied with a British commander in the First Commonwealth Division, which received its operational orders from the US Army I Corps, “Rocky” surely had his work cut out for him. Here he’s seen up to his epaulets in a bunch of Princess Patricia’s officers. As an aside, some Patricia’s officers revealed years later they were not overly ecstatic to join up with him. Their Battalion had spent five months in Korea as a fairly freewheeling, rough and ready group working within the structure of the 27th Commonwealth Brigade. They had been in some tough action, had slogged for weeks through heartbreaking mountains by winter and early spring and had grown mightily independent with respect to weaponry, vehicles, and tactics. He is said to have pulled them back into Canadian Army conformity with a strong hand.

Yes, old hands at this will be quick to point out that during the Korean War, as in World War Two, the Victoria Cross – while a “Commonwealth” decoration that could be awarded to servicemen of England’s former “colonies,” – was in fact administered as a British decoration.

This edition of Korea Vet News won’t stir around in that quagmire, which will be addressed in a subsequent edition.

There are fellows who have written reference texts on the Victoria Cross and its history. They could speak for hours nonstop and bury us all in not very stimulating minutia.

This edition focuses on whether – after the passage of half a century – it is possible to restore a Victoria Cross recommendation that during the approval process had been amended so as to deny the award but replace it with a lower one.

Actually, there is a very active case open in New Zealand right now that speaks exactly to that question.

The Maori nation within New Zealand is suing the Crown (as represented by the New Zealand Government) to have an original recommendation for a Victoria Cross restored and presented to Queen Elizabeth II for her “Royal assent.” The recommendation for a VC had been made in 1943 but was modified to the lower grade DCM in England during the review and approval process.

Korea Vet NewsThe suit was filed by the Te Arawa Maori Trust Board in 2000. The Waitangi Tribunal, with whom the claim was first filed, issued its report in December 2005. Other suits and efforts to have the same VC recommendation restored have been pursued for the past 20 years.

The opening words in the report are these exactly:

“The Haane Manahi VC claim (Wai 893) was filed with the Waitangi Tribunal in 2000 by the chairperson of the Te Arawa Māori Trust Board. It concerns the downgrading of a recommendation for a Victoria Cross (the highest possible Commonwealth military award for bravery) to a Distinguished Conduct Medal for an act of bravery by Lance-Sergeant Haane Manahi, in action at Takrouna (Tunisia) in 1943.”

The suit is under a considerable head of steam now. Much of the early initiative came from the survivors of the 28th Maori Battalion who established the Haane Manahi VC Committee. The Committee had gathered technical evidence supporting the original recommendation and found none that could possibly justify it being denied and lowered in grade to a DCM.

The Maori Trust Board had hoped to have the matter settled and the VC restored by April 15, 2005. That important date was Anzac Day and marked the 90th anniversary of the day on which New Zealand and Australian troops were landed at Gallipoli in the disastrous 1915 operations in World War One.

It also would have coincided with the 60th anniversary of the end of World War Two (May, 1945 for European theatre and August, 1945 for Asia Pacific theatre).

Korea Vet News

The 28th (Maori) Battalion was formed only after Maori Members of Parliament pressured their government to send Maori soldiers off to war as a unit and not individually dispersed among several units. The companies of the Battalion were formed along tribal lines. Along with the rest of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force they had the very bad luck to be sent to Greece and Crete in 1941. It was a poorly planned – probably unplanned – operation and they were forced to fight a bitter withdrawal. When evacuated they had to leave many heavy weapons and much personal equipment behind. The Maoris made up for it by rushing out when the enemy dropped supplies by parachute to their troops. They fought for the supplies, took up many enemy weapons and much of their ammunition. They continued that practice throughout the war. The photo above shows them in Italy, after more than a year of bitter fighting in North Africa. They are heading to battle, boots sparkling and an array of captured enemy weapons in their hands. Here is how Roger Smith, who wrote “Up The Blue Front” portrayed them:

Mount Trocchio, Italy, January 1944 – With a cheery farewell grin they had marched off armed to the teeth, festooned with Spandaus, Schmeissers, Brens, tommy-guns, carbines and the odd rifle. They were a piratical looking crew, swathed in greatcoats and balaclavas topped by battered tin hats, creaking in their harness with necklaces of Spandau belts and bandoliers slung about them. They headed off down to the road and swung into a staggered formation with an ominous clicking of cocking handles.

It would be very interesting, perhaps educational and inspiring, to take a look at that situation and what Veterans in New Zealand are doing about it.

Lance Sergeant Haane Manahi (Te Arawa, Ngati Whakaue)In 1943, at the Battle of Takrouna in Tunisia, Lance Sergeant Haane Manahi (Te Arawa, Ngati Whakaue) more than distinguished himself in battle.

First, after his platoon of 30 had sustained more than 60% casualties he led survivors in an assault on a 500-foot high precipice to the summit of a mountain overlooking the enemy held village.

Then Lance Sergeant Haane Manahi took a small team of three soldiers and scaled the near vertical last 50 feet to the summit.

The climb was made under heavy fire. Up top he and his men fought with and captured more than 60 enemy soldiers.

His bravery did not end there. They held the summit until the next day when their ammunition was expended and they were relieved.

For two days thereafter he led small teams in numerous attacks against enemy troops within the village. His bravery was the talk of the entire 28th Battalion and indeed of the whole Division.

The recommendation for a Victoria Cross was signed by every general in chain of command in North Africa. It went to the committee of British officers in England who presumably would present it to King George VI for his approval. The recommendation came back “approved” – but for a Distinguished Conduct Medal and not a Victoria Cross! Somebody had modified the citation and changed the recommendation (as in the case of Canada’s Corporal Poole).

King George VI had never seen Haane Manahi’s original VC recommendation. (Nor did the King see the VC recommendation Brigadier Rockingham made for Corporal Poole).

The Maori soldiers – in fact virtually all New Zealand soldiers in the theatre – were outraged!

His Excellency Sir Denis Blundell, Governor General of New Zealand, 1972-1977
His Excellency Sir Denis Blundell,
Governor General of New Zealand, 1972-1977
Here, a recorded comment from Sir Denis Blundell, who was a senior officer with the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Tunisia and subsequently became that country’s first New Zealand born Governor General.

He served in that high capacity from 1972 to 1977. A lawyer, he had been president of the New Zealand Law Society and also had served as High Commissioner to Britain and New Zealand’s Ambassador in Ireland. Sir Dennis passed away in 1984 at age 77.

Sir Denis is on record as follows:
“I wrote the citation for a VC, Sergeant Manahi, and like the rest of the Division was disgusted when he was awarded an immediate DCM. I feel sure that here was an example, that even in the realm of bravery, politics played a part, and that the award to 2nd Lieutenant Ngarimu only some three weeks previously influenced the final decision.”

The 2nd Lieutenant Ngarimu that Sir Denis Blundell refers to is Lieutenant Moananui-a-kiwa Ngarimu (Ngati Porou and Te Whanau-a-Apanui), VC. The award to Lieutenant Ngarimu, VC, was made posthumously in Tunisia.

Another notable general officer who had signed the recommendation for Lance Sergeant Haane Manahi’s Victoria Cross was Lieutenant General Sir Brian Horrocks, commander of the British XIII Corps in North Africa. General Horrocks later was commander of the British XXX Corps in France and Holland.

LtGen Sir Brian Horrocks
LtGen Sir Brian Horrocks
LtGen Sir Brian Horrocks, then commanding British XIII Corps, had approved and signed Sergeant Manahi’s Victoria Cross recommendation.

He had served as an officer with the Gloucester Regiment in World War One and had been severely wounded and captured at the second Battle of the Somme.

General Horrocks wrote that, “It (the battle of Takrouna) was the most gallant feat of arms I witnessed in the course of the war and I was bitterly disappointed when Sgt Manahi whom we had recommended for a VC only received a DCM.”

New Zealand newspapers report that there are precedents for restoration of the Victoria Cross recommendation in cases where the original recommendation was knocked down to a Distinguished Conduct Medal (the next highest decoration for bravery).

One such case involves the British uncle of a New Zealander who was a Sergeant Major in the Coldstream Guards. This soldier, Sergeant Major Peter Wright was recommended for a Victoria Cross for his brave conduct near Salerno, Italy, where he attacked three enemy machinegun positions.

The recommendation was knocked down to a DCM, which was awarded. One British officer went on record, urging that the original recommendation be restored and resubmitted to the King.

When King George VI visited troops in Italy he awarded the Victoria Cross to Peter Wright in place of the DCM.

The Maori nation has agreed that it is dealing “with the Crown as it exists in New Zealand.” That means essentially with the New Zealand Government, of which the Queen symbolically is the head. Neither the Queen nor the British Government has legal authority to interfere in the affairs of New Zealand.

However, Queen Elizabeth II is the “Sovereign of the Order of the Victoria Cross.” Under her “Royal Prerogative” she has full “Right of Assent,” pertaining to its award. Like Canada and Australia, New Zealand (as of 1999) has its own version of the Victoria Cross. However, the Queen is still the sovereign of the Order with the sole right of assent.

The New Zealand Government has pussy footed around with the Sergeant Haane Manahi matter, to the chagrin of the irritated Maori people. It has from time to time “explored” whether or not the Queen might consider studying the Manahi Victoria Cross situation if the original recommendation were restored and presented to her.

In its filing in the suit initiated by the Te Arawa Maori Trust Board, lawyers for the New Zealand Government (representing the Crown) have presented something most disappointing.

They present that in their opinion the lower grade Distinguished Conduct Medal that Sergeant Haane Manahi was awarded indeed is a prestigious award for his brave service that satisfies the nation’s obligation to grant him a high military honour.

The filings confirm his acts of bravery but suggest other non-military “honours” such as naming of schools and buildings after him are ample to offset the turndown for the Victoria Cross.

Naturally, that does not sit well with most Maoris or with many New Zealand Veterans.

Battle of Maketu in 1864 by H.G. Robley
Famous painting by British officer H.G. Robley, circa 1865, depicts Maori performing Haka war dance at Battle of Maketu in 1864. The painting resides in the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand

Troops from B Company of the 28th Maori Battalion perform the Haka
Troops from B Company of the 28th Maori Battalion perform the Haka in the desert in North Africa. They start out on one knee as is traditional. The Haka is still performed today by the All Black (official name) Maori football team and by Maori cultural groups for tourists – all with terrifying results. The object of the dance was to terrify an enemy. The thing enemies came to learn was that the Maori warriors were even tougher than they looked! They might even get a Cape Breton Islander a little concerned.

The “thrust” of the Government efforts has been in three separate “informal approaches” (unofficial) made by former Governors General of New Zealand to the Buckingham Palace bureaucracy. One does not directly approach the Queen and to suggest doing so would be puerile and absurd.

Emissaries such as the former Governor Generals deal with those who make a living out of counselling the Queen and doing her administration.

The New Zealand representatives have been told (at what level we do not know) that the Queen would not be inclined to reconsider the situation because ministers who were in office then (1943) are no longer around to advise her.

Further, a policy precedent was established in the name of her father, King George VI, in 1949 that put the kibosh on retroactive consideration of awards. Buckingham Palace bureaucrats will not hesitate to presume to speak for the Crown at a personal, non-official level so this palaver is somewhat meaningless.

The Maori legal counsel essentially responds that, “forget all of that bunk. We only want the original recommendation restored as it was submitted. We want it restored and presented not informally to a palace bureaucracy but directly to Queen Elizabeth II so that she might actually exercise her own Royal Prerogative.”

The rub is that the Queen’s authority is dependent on the advice of her Ministers. Her Ministers are politicians. Her secretary and staff are expert bureaucrats of the highest order. Nobody gets past them to the Monarch.

The New Zealand Government, acting as “the Crown,” says through its lawyers that it would be a “disingenuous act” to resubmit the original VC recommendation to the Queen, feeling strongly that in all probability it would be turned down.

The Maori legal counsel and representatives think that is a lame excuse and in itself is disingenuous.

The Maori suit against the Crown (as represented by the Government of New Zealand) continues.

New Zealand’s 600,000 Maori population – about 13% of the estimated total population of 4.6 million people – are very serious and want the late Haane Manahi to receive a posthumous Victoria Cross.

So do many, many others in New Zealand. It’s the honour of the Maoris and the honour of all New Zealanders they feel is at stake.

Murukai Services Cemetery
Murukai Services Cemetery where Sergeant Haane Manahi is entombed among fellow warriors who have fallen through the years. Many others are buried where they fell in Greece, Crete, North Africa, Italy.

In a memorial service for Haane Manahi held at the side of his grave, Tony Horton, president of the Rotorua Returned Services Association (RSA), delivered a moving eulogy. The RSA is similar to the Royal Canadian Legion. In the eulogy, Horton said:

“We stand here today at Muruika Services Cemetery surrounded by the mana of many a warrior who served their King and country. A number of those that we mourn today were not so fortunate and lie in battlefields far away in foreign countries. As I stand at the foot of the tomb of Haane Manahi I am inspired by his bravery and his absolute courage in the face of a fearsome enemy.

“We, as the foremost organisation for Returned Servicemen within New Zealand fully support the call for a full inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the downgrading of the highly recommended citation for the Victoria Cross and feel that this matter needs to be given the highest priority, given the frailness of those around us who served with this gallant hero.”

With that we pass along the mission. Is it possible to undo what many think was the wrong done to Canada’s Corporal Ernest Poole in 1951 and perhaps have his original Canadian recommendation for a Victoria Cross complied with?

There will be another edition on the subject to show why things went the other way in 1951.

Meanwhile, it will not hurt to reflect on what the brave Maoris are doing to try to rescue the unquestionably hard earned honour of one of their Veteran warriors.

Lance Sergeant Haane Manahi (Te Arawa, Ngati Whakaue)
Lance Sergeant Haane Manahi
In the days that have now gone
when the Maoris went to war
They fought and fought until the last man died
for the honour of their tribe
And so we carry on
the conditions they have laid
And as we go on day by day
You will always hear us say…

Maori Battalion march to victory
Maori Battalion staunch and true
Maori Battalion march to glory
Take the honour of the people with you
We will march, march, march to the enemy
And we’ll fight right to the end.
For God! For King! And for Country!
AU – E! Ake, ake, kia kaha e!

Marching song of the 28th Maori Battalion, whose 3000 members went on to win fame in World War Two as shock troops in Greece, Crete, North Africa and Italy. Haane Manahi (Te Arawa, Ngati Whakaue) served with them all the way.

Distinguished Conduct MedalThe Distinguished Conduct Medal that was awarded to Corporal Ernest Poole, RCAMC, for his bravery while serving with 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment in Korea, was the highest decoration next to the Victoria Cross that could then be awarded to a Canadian or other Commonwealth nation soldier. The award was made for conspicuous bravery in battle. The medal was first struck in December 1854, during the Crimean War. It was replaced in England by the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross in 1993. The latter award is thought to be more “politically correct” in that it is awarded to both officers and non-commissioned ranks without discrimination. Most previous British decorations were issued in versions applicable to officers (usually Crosses) and non-commissioned ranks (medals).

Canada stopped issuing the Distinguished Conduct Medal when it adopted its own honours systems. During the Korean War eight Canadian soldiers were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, including Corporal Poole. One of the awards was for a second DCM. It was made to Corporal Leo Major of the Royal 22e Regiment for his brave action in November, 1951, on a formation next to Hill 355 during an enemy attack.