The story of a particularly special object which the museum is currently caring for. This wooden walking stick (tokotoko) was presented to Major General Sir Howard Karl Kippenberger by the 28th Maori Battalion as a mark of their respect and admiration for their former leader in a ceremony in February 1945.
Howard Kippenberger (known to the men as Kip) had begun the war as the Commanding Officer of the 20th Infantry Battalion before being promoted to Brigadier in 1942 where he was in charge of the 5th Infantry Brigade which at that time included the 28th (Maori) Battalion. Kippenberger remained the commander of 5th Brigade until early 1944 when he briefly took over as Major General in command of the entire New Zealand Division. Unfortunately for Kip on the 2nd March 1944, after only five weeks in charge and on the eve of the battle of Cassino, he stepped on an land mine which resulted in the loss of both of his lower legs (and feet). After recovering in England and being fitted with prosthetic legs, Kip returned to visit the division in Northern Italy in February 1945. Alongside many other reunions, he was welcomed by the Maori Battalion in a ceremonial parade at Castel Raimondo where, grateful to see their former commander again, they presented him with this amazing tāonga.
The walking stick was carved by 62586 2nd Lieutenant Rua John Kaika who served in C Company, 28th Battalion. What is particularly special about this stick is that all of its components were selected for their special significance. The wood came from a pick handle found on the battlefield of Cassino, the metal name plate from the remains of a downed German Messerschmitt and the inlaid pieces of stained glass were from the windows of the Cassino monastery chapel. Furthermore, the metal ferrule (end) of the stick is made from a .50 calibre Browning round and the rubber end piece from the tyres of a jeep left at Cassino (said to have belonged to General Freyberg).
In presenting the stick to Kippenberger, the battalion’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Pita Awatere explained the significance of the carvings. Beneath the round ball on the top (which served as a hand grip) was a whakawaewae figure with traditional slant eyes, bared teeth and protruding tongue which embodied of the spirit of the 28th Battalion. This whakawaewae stood on top of a bodiless upokowheku which has two faces carved around the sides of the stick, one to observe the advance and the other to guard the rear. The tongue reaches down the length of the stick in a haehae (spiral) pattern, ever looking for food and to lick up the Germans.
Kippenberger was said to have been greatly moved by the presentation as, during his time commanding 5th Brigade, he had come to see the Maori Battalion as part of his own family and told them that he was honoured to have helped build the battalion into the legendary fighting force that it had become. Kip used this gift as his own walking stick for many years afterwards and was said to have walked a little taller when carrying this stick.
Major General Howard Kippenberger’s walking stick is currently on loan to the National Army Museum Te Mata Toa from his granddaughter Sarah Kippenberger. It is with special thanks to her that we are able to share in this special piece of New Zealand history.
By Brenden Shirley, Curator of Accoutrements, Social History and Medical