The 25th of April is a date still deep-rooted in the memory of all New Zealanders. It symbolises the start of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign but also the enduring day in history, known as Anzac Day. It was a campaign with a casualty rate of 7500 Kiwi troops injured, and 2721 killed. Amongst those who were wounded was a school teacher and Maori All Black; Captain Pirimi Tahiwi. His medals are on display in the National Army Museum’s Medal Repository.
After completing teacher training Tahiwi worked as a resident master at Otaki Native College. A keen sportsman, he represented Horowhenua Rugby Union and in 1913 became a Maori All Black. As a serving member of the Territorial Force, Pirimi was quick to join the Maori Contingent of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
In June 1915, Tahiwi sailed to Gallipoli and on the 6th of August he and Captain Roger Dansey led a company in the battle of Sari Bair. For this attack Tahiwi and Dansey led their men in the famous Te Rauparaha’s haka, ‘Ka mate, ka ora, ka ora’ war cry as they set about clearing Turkish trenches. Unfortunately, the next day Captain Pirimi Tahiwi was shot in the neck and was evacuated to a hospital in England. He became one of the 89 Maori wounded in the attack.
Upon release from hospital, he rejoined the unit in France on 7 August 1916 and was appointed Company Commander on 19 August. He returned to New Zealand on 8 January 1917 to train reinforcements for the Maori Battalion but later went back to the Western Front on 20 October 1917 to rejoin the unit and see out the end of the war.
As an aside, leaving Gallipoli on 15 August 1915 was not, however, the end of his relationship with the slopes of Gallipoli. For the very first Anzac day in 1916, Pirimi was selected by the New Zealand high commission to lead the New Zealand troops in the London Parade. Many years later (and after further home service in WWII), the New Zealand Returned Services association organised the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Gallipoli landings (1965) and Pirimi Tahiwi was the sole surviving officer of the Maori Contingent. Once again, he travelled back to the battle site, this time with his wife. On this day, Captain Tahiwi laid a mere at the memorial at Chunuk Bair in honour of those who fought and those who died during that fateful campaign.
Pirimi Tahiwi died in Wellington on 30 July 1969, aged 78.