Our Famous Heroes
Te Moananui Ngarimu.
Te Moananui Ngarimu was born at Whareponga on the East Coast in 1919. He attended Whareponga and Hiruharama Native Schools and Te Aute College. He then worked on the family farm.
Early in World War II Sir Apirana Ngata convinced the Government to form the 28th New Zealand (Maori) Battalion, organised on a tribal basis and entirely composed of volunteers. Among the earliest to join, Ngarimu signed up in February 1940.
The Battalion left New Zealand in may 1940. Ngarimu subsequently became a second lieutenant and a platoon leader in the C Company, drawn form the Eastern Bay of Plenty, East Coast and Poverty Bay.
The Maori Battalion was in heavy fighting in Greece, Crete and Libya. In February 1943 C Company officers, including Ngarimu, wrote to Sir Apirana Ngata, ‘the father of the Battalion’, about the many casualties, that wounded men were having to fight, and suggesting that the men needed a rest.
Shortly after this the Battalion went into action in at Tebag Gap, Tunisia. The objective was a hill called Point 209, which the Ngati Porou soldiers named Hikurangi after their mountain at home. Battalion Comander, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Bennett, wrote of Ngarimu: "Displaying courage and leadership of the highest order, he was himself on the hill crest, personally annihilating at least two enemy machine gun posts".
Although wounded in the shoulder and leg, Ngarimu stayed with his men. ‘Hikurangi’ was attacked many times during the night and Ngarimu led the defence, driving the attackers back with his machine gun and throwing stones in hand-to-hand combat when weapons were disables or grenades had run out.
On the morning of 27 March 1943 the enemy counter-attacked again and Moananui Ngarimu was killed. Later that day the Germans on Point 209 surrendered.
Moananui Ngarimu was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery, determination and outstanding leadership. It was presented to his parents by the Govenor General at a large hui at Ruatoria in October 1943. The only Victorian Cross ever awarded to a Maori, it is displayed in the Tairawhiti Museum’s Prize of Citizenship Gallery.
Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu VC is buried in the Sfax Cemetery in Tunisia.