Te Rau Aroha

He kupu maioha i tuku ki te Ope Whawhai o te Iwi Māori me to rātou manawanui.
Te Rau Aroha is a term of respect and reverence given to those whose actions embody courage and service to their fellow citizens.

Te Rau Aroha was the name given to this mobile canteen truck which travelled throughout the North African and Italian campaigns during World War II. Driven and looked after by YMCA worker Charlie Bennet, the canteen supplied all kinds of goods including tinned fruit from home, razor blades, toothbrushes, scented soap, chocolates, sweets, books and tinned seafood.

The truck was a gift to the 28th Māori Battalion from children of the Native Schools of New Zealand. When the Māori community decided to send their men to war with a special gift, an appeal for funds went around the schools. The target was 850 pounds, (about $1700 at the time). In just six months the target was reached as schools grew vegetables for sale and ran concerts and stalls; children also dug into their moneyboxes. The final total raised was 1000 pounds (about $2000 at the time) – a lot of money in those days.

The truck was hoisted aboard a troop ship and left New Zealand for the Middle East in late 1941. Te Rau Aroha and Charlie Bennet, known affectionately by the soldiers as Charlie Y.M., followed the Māori Battalion wherever they went. Among his many habits that endeared him to the men was his willingness to extend credit between paydays and also for his bravery in following the men into battle in the truck.

The soldiers were very protective of Te Rau Aroha and were often concerned for its safety. One story of the men waiting for the truck to return back to the battalion from base when news came that the enemy had cut the supply lines and captured several vehicles carrying materials to the front. There was gloom over the whole Māori Battalion until their beloved van appeared over the edge of the desert. Cheers rose as hundreds men surged forward to hear about Charlie’s adventures.

Another story demonstrating the men’s love of Charlie Y.M and the truck was during the slow withdrawal to the defences of El Alamein. Stuka dive-bombers (deadly German planes) attacked from out of the sun and straddled the Māori Battalion convoy with bombs. Several of the trucks caught fire, some men were killed and many more were wounded. A bomb landed a few metres away from Te Rau Aroha and shrapnel sprayed its sides with one tyre punctured. The men were as concerned for Te Rau Aroha as for their wounded, and the convoy even waited until the tyre had been changed. Today the patched shrapnel gashes bear testimony to its exploits.

Te Rau Aroha even became a fighting vehicle. It was at El Aghiela, east of Tripoli, where Rommel had momentarily halted the spearheads of the Eighth Army. A portion of the enemy forces had been cut off, and from their position the Māori Battalion had spotted their location. With bayonets fixed, they prepared to charge. Charlie and Te Rau Aroha charged too, and sped down the hill. Afterwards an English Officer said that he could hardly believe his eyes when he saw those fierce men racing down the hill with a YMCA van in their midst.

To the soldiers of the 28 Māori Battalion, Te Rau Aroha was more than a canteen. They hastened to its assistance when it was in trouble on the desert; they protected it, they showed concern for its safety when it was overdue; they sought it out in the night just to satisfy themselves that it was still there in the convoy. It had represented to them everything they held dear to home.

Today Te Rau Aroha is treasured as part of the Museum’s collection here in Waiouru.

As per the inscription on its side and written in the hearts of the brave men of the 28 Māori Battalion….

He tohu aroha na nga tamariki o nga Kura Māori o Niu Tireni ki te Ope Whawhai o te Iwi Māori e tau mai ra i te Pae o te Pakanga i te Mura o te Ahi.
Presented to the Māori Battalion as a token of love from the children of the native schools of New Zealand.