The entire British Empire threw itself into support of the Allied cause in World War II. Even as far away as New Zealand, volunteers flocked to enlistment centers, received their training, and headed to war zones in Europe and the Middle East. One of the units formed in New Zealand was the 28th (Maori) Battalion, attached at different times to one or another of the three brigades of the New Zealand Division. The Maori Battalion was divided into four rifle companies, organized along Maori tribal lines, was and supported by a Headquarters Company of Maori men from all parts of New Zealand.
One of the men who left New Zealand in 1940, as a member of the Maori Battalion’s headquarters company, was George Katene – not the George Katene of yesterday’s post, but his son, age 25 in 1940, who had ridden in the back of that truck to the Dannevirke hui tau in 1936. He must have been a promising young man, because he was a sergeant before the company embarked, and was soon promoted to the rank of lieutenant.
Soon after leaving New Zealand with his unit in May 1940, George Katene took leave of the Latter-day Saints there in a letter published in the August 1940 edition of Te Karere, the mission newspaper
28th Maori Battalion,
To the Latter-day Saints,
Care Te Karere,
Auckland, New Zealand.
My greetings and salutations to you all. In these few words is also the aroha nui of all the brethren who share with me the honor in this venture across the great seas to help uphold the principles of humanity that we have learned to love from teachings of our Church. Somehow I did not wish to make this a letter of farewell. It would seem too hard and definite. Truly it was with sorrow that we bade adieu to loved ones in our fair land which now seems so far away, and though the plaintive sweet melody of Po-Ata-Rau accentuated this feeling as our boat drew out from shore, we drew some consolation from the concluding verse, “When you return, you’ll find me waiting here.” How consoling this fact is many of you will not have the privilege of knowing. We did not realize how much wealth we had in friends and relatives until we parted from them. Now, as we draw farther and farther away from you all, we grow appreciative of this fact, and each day finds a yearning deep within that we may be worthy of the blessing of reunion.
Some of us, I know, bear deep in mind the historic story of the “Mormon Battalion,” which traveled through the strife an contentions that were rife at that time in America, without losing one member of its force. Surely the protection of their Maker, and ours also, was with them. How deep is our desire to emulate them! How deep is our desire to utilize the powers we have to safeguard our persons! how deep is the knowledge that we too can claim this protection! We pray God we will be worthy of this blessing. We pray God that we will be worthy of the love and respect of our loved ones.
Just now we move through a world of newness that delights and expands our knowledge of the world and its affairs. The treatment we enjoy at present is of very good standard, and I feel that as far as this sea journey is concerned, we should be the envy of all men whether young or old. I should like to relate the magnitude of this convoy and various experiences we’ve encountered, but unfortunately for you and most fortunately for us, we are unable to do so (army regulations.)
So to you dear fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends, we send greetings of good cheer to comfort and gladden you even though we are absent physically. the cry for unity has never been so loudly proclaimed before. The whole Christian world calls for it. In the homes the bonds of love should bind together the members closer and closer. In the churches the altars of love call to their members to come and share with them the warmth of spirituality. also the various administrative organizations beg for the love of humanity and adherence to the principles they advocate. No matter where we walk the cry for unity confronts us. Somehow I wish that I could walk up to each Latter-day Saint and make him realize that this is so; that it is time to grow out of our shells and expand our modes of living so that we will be of more benefit to our neighbors. We must grow, and grow strong, because of troublous times ahead. We must cultivate our physical beings so that we may withstand hardship. We must build up our mentalities so that we will have the determination to exist in righteousness.
Remember, though you are left behind, you have work to do the same as we, and remember a slacker always lets his mate down. So live the Word of Wisdom, cling to all truth and live in righteousness.
Sent to you on behalf of the Latter-day Saints in this battalion.
Sgt. GEORGE KATENE
The Maori Battalion was stationed first in Egypt, then, in October 1943, they arrived in Italy. Although the Italian military had surrendered to the Allies a few weeks earlier, Italy was occupied by German troops who resisted the Allied onslaught for every foot of territory. The Maori Battalion fought valiantly, much of their combat hand to hand, and took heavy losses – of the 3600 Maoris who served with the Battalion from 1940 to 1945, 649 died in combat, with more than 1700 wounded.
On the 7th of December 1943, as the Maori Battalion attacked enemy troops holding the town of Orsogna, Italy, one of those who fell was the young Latter-day Saint George Katene.
He is buried in the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery, Ortona, Italy.