Hēnare Kōhere was a member of the Māori Contingent and Pioneer Battalion during the First World War.
Born in 1880, at Te Araroa, he was one of four children, and the grandson of Ngāti Porou chief, Mōkena Kōhere.
After leaving school, Hēnare worked on a Nelson sheep station before returning to work on the family farm.
In 1901, he received the Royal Humane Society’s bronze medal for saving the life of a sailor whose boat had overturned.
The following year, Hēnare travelled to London as a member of the Māori section of a New Zealand contingent that attended the coronation of King Edward VII. He trained and led the Māori members of the contingent in the haka.
In 1905, he married Ngārangi Tūrei, daughter of the Ngāti Porou leader Mohi Tūrei, and they had three children. Ngārangi passed away in 1910, and her death greatly affected Hēnare.
In June 1915, he followed his younger brother, Tawhaikura Mōkena, and enlisted for service in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
Before heading overseas, he wrote a letter to his children:
The weather has been good here. Peta is sitting in my room reading a book. Look after yourselves, be good to each other and be good to your Nanny.
All of us are doing fine.
On Sunday I’ll most probably go into town to church to one of the beautiful buildings of the Pākehā.
There is nothing else to write about – just the usual routine of soldiers’ duties. We are getting used to this way of life.
Goodbye for now.
Huinga – look after your young sister, Ngārangi, and be good to Hiki.
Goodbye Hiki. When I come back you will be a big boy.
Say goodbye to all your cousins and relations.
It won’t be long before you see Papa again.
Hēnare reached France with the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion in April 1916. This unit worked mainly in a combat support role – clearing trees, digging trenches, building roads and other logistical tasks – and soon gained a reputation for bravery and determination.
This was especially evident during the Battle of the Somme that year, when the pioneers dug two important communication trenches – Turk Lane and Fish Alley – under very heavy enemy shellfire.
It was at the battle of the Somme, on 14 September, that Hēnare was wounded by a German shell.
He was carried to his dugout by his men, and as he lay on the stretcher, he appeared comfortable and happy. In one hand, he held a lit cigarette. The shell blast had smashed the other.
He seemed resigned to his fate. When the battalion second-in-command, Major Peter Buck, asked him how he was, Hēnare replied, ‘Ka nui te kino’ – things are very bad.
Hēnare died of wounds two days later, and his body was laid to rest in Heilly Station Cemetery near the village of Mericourt-l′Abbe.
At his request, the leadership of his platoon passed to another Ngāti Porou officer, Lieutenant Pēkama Kaa.
New Zealand Pioneer Battalion chaplain, Hēnare Te Wainohu, wrote to Hēnare’s brother, Poihipi, about his death:
So far the Maori Battalion has fairly come out of the German conflagration. Neither paper nor pen can express the bitter sorrow for the young Maoris who have made the supreme sacrifice for the King, the nation and the whole world. Members of leading families of the Maori people, of both the North and South Islands, now lie on the fields of France.
We as Maoris feel it very much, and our thoughts constantly wander homewards to the parents and the people.
Chaplain Hēnare Te Wainohu
The Chaplain continued.
I suppose you and Rewiti and all your family have learned that your brother Henare has gone with those who were prepared to die for King and Empire.
We feel his death very keenly.
Chaplain Hēnare Te Wainohu
Hēnare Kōhere was a greatly respected officer, and Ngāti Porou leader of much dignity and mana.
His name features in a popular Māori Pioneer Battalion song – Te ope tuatahi, composed by his friend Apirana Ngata.
His image adorns one of the windows of Saint Mary’s church at Tikitiki, on the East Coast.