The Katene Brothers - The Pioneer Battalion

The Maori Contingents

Te Hokowhitu a Tu



The first Native Contingent sailed from Wellington aboard the SS Warrimoo in February 1915. Its motto was Te Hokowhitu a Tu (the seventy twice told warriors of the war god) signifying the 140 warriors of the war god, Tu-mata-uenga. The name was given by Wi Pere, an East Coast rangatira. The crest of the contingent bore two traditional Maori weapons, the taiaha and tewhatewha crossed through a crown.[i]


While raised for combat duties there were concerns about the Maori fighting against European forces. The contingent was sent from Egypt to Malta for ongoing training and garrison duties which freed up Pakeha troops for action on Gallipoli.

The mounting losses at Gallipoli and the need for reinforcements forced a change in the then ‘Imperial policy on native peoples fighting’ and the contingent landed at Anzac Cove on 3 July 1915 where they joined with the New Zealand Mounted Rifles.

  The spirit of his father – poster December 1915

One of the Wellington Mounted Rifles noted on 3rd July 1915, in his diary:[ii]

‘Maoris landed this morning few shells came over. Sapping tonight.’

At the end of the campaign when the Anzac forces were evacuated from Gallipoli of the Maori Contingents, 16 officers and 461 other ranks who had landed in July 1915 only two officers and 132 other ranks would muster in January 1916. Fifty members of the Maori Contingent lost their lives in the campaign.

The gaps in the ranks would be filled by the men from the 2nd Maori Contingent which included three Katene brothers; Rangi Wi, Taku & Frederick Bennett Wi Katene.

Rangi Wi Katene was born on 11th February 1892 in Motueka and was working as a farmer in the district when he enlisted on the 10th July 1915 at Takapuna, Nelson in the Maori Contingent. Rangi Wi Katene’s next of kin is registered as his father Wi Katene of Lyall Bay, Wellington.

16/636 Private Rangi Wi Katene entered training on 30th June 1915 with his two younger brothers 16/635 Taku & 16/792 Frederick Bennett William Katene. The three brothers left New Zealand on the 28th September 1915 as part of the 2nd Maori Contingent heading for Egypt. 16/636 Private Katene remained in Egypt, part of the time in hospital, until he was sent on 2nd April 1916 to France. In France Private Katene was posted to the Pioneer Battalion however ill health continued to see him in and out of hospital in France before eventually being evacuated to England. In England Private Katene was again in and out of hospital where he not only developed mumps but was also diagnosed with TB Glands in the neck. A medical board in July 1917 determined that Private Katene was no longer fit for active service and he was returned to New Zealand where on 23rd October 1917 he was ‘discharged as being no longer physically fit for the war service on account of pre-enlistment disabilities aggravated by active service.’

On leaving the army Rangi Wi Katene moved to Manai, Taranaki where he died on 14th January 1934.

Taku Katene was born, on 1st February 1895, in Porirua and was working as a farm hand in Porirua on Jas Wall’s farm. Taku lists his next of kin, like Rangi, as his father Wi Katene, Lyall Bay, Wellington. 16/636 Private Taku Katene left with the 2nd Maori Contingent spending some time in Egypt before leaving, on 9th April 1916, for France. In France 16/636 Private Katene was posted to the Pioneer Battalion and remained in France apart from leave to England. On one of these periods of leave in February 1917 Private Katene was admitted to hospital in Edinburgh, Scotland with appendicitis which kept him out of the front lines for six months. 16/636 Private Taku Katene was promoted, on 28th April 1918, to Lance Corporal a rank he would retain to the end of the war. Lance Corporal Katene left England on the 28th February 1919 returning to New Zealand where on 4th May 1919 he was discharged ‘on termination of period of engagement.’, on

Taku Katene returned to civil life in Porirua and married, in 1919, Eleanor Te Anau Keach, they made their home in Porirua.

Eleanor Te Anau Katene died in 1944 and Taku Katene died in Porirua in 1976.

The youngest brother Frederick Bennett William Katene, also known as Frederick Bennett Wi Katene was born, on 2nd August 1897[iii], in Motueka. On enlistment Frederick was single working in Motueka as a clerk for New Zealand Railways. The military enlistment papers are vague on his actual age but like many young men he may have ‘adjusted’ it to be able to enlist with his brother, Frederick was not quite 18 but as it was noted in the Marlborough Express in 1916:

‘when the would-be recruit seemed a well grown, healthy fellow, the recruiting officer did not insist on the age limit being reached or winked the other eye when a youth of 18 or 19 – there have been many as low as 17 – calmly “attested” as being the full twenty.’ ‘Any youth who, after this, may get into camp will if he is discovered be court- martialled at once for supplying false information on his attestation form and be dismissed.’[iv]

16/792 Private Frederick Bennett William Katene, 2nd Maori Contingent sailed with his brothers to Egypt and then France and the Pioneer Battalion. ‘The Pioneer Battalion had been formed from the Maori Contingent and remnants of the Otago Mounted Rifles to support the New Zealand Division. The Battalion was responsible for digging trenches, building roads and other duties behind the front lines and were expected to have fewer casualties than infantry units. In spite of this, the unit suffered heavily in France, its duties consistently carrying the men into the trenches. From early 1916 the Maori reinforcements were supplemented by Pacific Islanders, including Rarotongans, Tongans, Niueans and some Samoans. By August 1917 there were adequate reinforcements to fill the Battalion so on 1st September 1917 it became the New Zealand (Maori) Pioneer Battalion and the original badge of the 1st Contingent was restored to the Pioneers.’[v]

The knowledge that Maori were serving not only in the Pioneer Battalion but also through other units in the New Zealand Division resulted in the Time, of 29th July 1918 reporting that:[vi]

‘Some prisoners recently taken by New Zealand troops were singularly depressed,

and shrank from all manifestation of kindness on the part of their captors, especially

refusing cigarettes. Subsequently it appeared that they had been told New Zealanders

were cannibals, whose invariable custom was to make captives smoke cigarettes and

then eat them.’



The New Zealanders were quick to include this is in a Christmas card for 1918

16/792 was promoted to Lance Corporal on 16th June 1918 and Corporal on 1st November 1918.

Corporal Katene

Private Katene was promoted to Lance Corporal on 16th June 1918 and Corporal on 1st November 1918. While Corporal Katene was waiting for repatriation he was admitted, sick, to hospital which delayed his return to New Zealand being the last brother to return leaving England on the 28th March 1919 and discharged, on 7th June 1919 as ‘on termination of period of engagement.’




The three brothers were photographed together in New Zealand about 1920

Taku Katene (left)

Rangi Wi Katene (seated)

Frederick Bennett Wi Katene (right)

Frederick Bennett Wi Katene died in Wellington on 13th October 1984


Archway Archives New Zealand – Military records: 16/636 Private Rangi Wi Katene

Archway Archives New Zealand – Military records: 16/635 Lance Corporal  Taku Katene

Archway Archives New Zealand – Military records: 16/729 Corporal Frederick Bennett William Katene

Maori Units of the NZEF: New Zealand History Nga korero a ipurangi o Aotearoa

Nga pakanga ki Tawahi – Maori continbent in the First World War: The encyclopaedia of New Zealand 


The spirit of his fathers: Poster by William Blomfiled: New Zealand Observer, December 1915 - Alexander Turnbull Library (Reference: A-312-1-088)
1918 New Zealand Christmas Card: Dodson family connection

1920 The Three Katene Brothers: Pataka P-1-86

[i] Maori Units of the NZEF – Native Contingent at Gallipoli: New Zealand History

[ii] Unpublished Diary 1915 : 11/24 Corporal Eric Hector Dunstan Craw. Wellington Mounted Rifles

[iii] Archway Archives New Zealand – Military Records (Death Cert): 16/792 Corporal F B W Katene.

[iv] Enlistment (2nd November 1916)  Marlborough Express

[v]Maori Pioneer Battalion: Maori contingents in the First World War

[vi] Christmas Card 1918

Last Updated: 30/03/2015 9:09pm