Honouring our Heroes: a Maori Anzac

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In the final year of Anzac Centenary (2014-2018) we will be sharing stories of men and women from all wars, peacekeeping operations and conflicts. The second story in the 'Honouring our Heroes' series is that of Private Karanema Pohatu, a Maori Anzac.

A profile photo of a Maori soldier

Karanema Pohatu (aka Robert Stone)

Born in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, Karanema was one of nine children. He moved to Australia in 1910 and began working as a shearer. Four years later, just two months after the First World War began in 1914, Karanema enlisted in the AIF. He was 21 years old.

Karanema’s brother described him as “fair for a Maori”, a feature which enabled him to enlist despite the enlistment of Aboriginal and Islander people not being officially allowed. To further the disguise, Karanema changed his name to Robert Stone—stone being the English word for his surname ‘Pohatu’.

Robert was part of the 1st reinforcements for the 3rd Battalion, and landed on Gallipoli at dawn on 25 April 1915. The men were immediately under fire from the Turkish troops on the ridges overlooking the beach. After fighting hard all day, Robert and the other soldiers in his unit managed to take over some Turkish trenches. They dug in for the night, but remained under attack.

Things did not improve overnight, and sadly Robert was one of many Anzacs killed in the fighting that took place on April 26. His body was hastily buried, but in the chaos that followed, his grave was lost.

In the first five days of the Gallipoli campaign, 860 soldiers died. In the following nine months of the Gallipoli campaign the casualty count grew to more than 8,700.

Communication between Robert and his family had been scarce after his enlistment. It was only after the war, when they tried to track down his whereabouts, that the family discovered his fate and Robert’s Maori heritage was revealed.

Tohana, Robert’s brother, wrote to Australian authorities in 1922 and asked for help locating Robert. Authorities asked him to prove his relationship, which he did.

Tohana was able to provide information on a scar on his brother’s right foot from an accident with an axe matching the description in Karanema’s medical examination upon enlistment. He also provided the translation of ‘Pohatu’ to stone in English. Tohana was confirmed as Karanema’s eldest brother and received Robert’s effects.

In Tohana’s response letter he noted that, “we never received any letter from him. The only thing we received was a photograph of a group while in camp …”

Karanema’s name is listed on the memorial at Quinn’s Post Cemetery on the Gallipoli peninsula, as well as on the Australian War Memorial’s Roll of Honour with the name he used to enlist - Robert Stone.

Two Maori soldiers standing in front of a rock at Gallipoli with the words N.Z MAORIPAH carved into it

Two unidentified soldiers beside a Maori carving in the trenches on Gallipoli

Did you know?

According to Australia’s official war correspondent Charles Bean, the name, A. and N.Z. Army Corps was far too cumbrous for constant use, especially in telegrams, and a telegraphic address was needed…a convenient word was wanted as a code name for the Corps. One of the clerks suggested: “How about ANZAC?” Major Wagstaff proposed the word to the general, who approved of it, and “Anzac” therefore became the code name of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.