Pekama Rongoaia Kaa, No. 16/620, C Company, New Zealand Pioneer Battalion. Killed in action, 14 August 1917.

Born in 1894 at Rangitukia, a small settlement north-east of Tikitiki on the East Coast, Pekama Rongoaia Kaa was one of Panikena and Matewa Kaa’s 15 children. From Ngāti Porou, Pekama was educated at Rangitukia Native School before winning a scholarship to attend Te Aute College in Hawke’s Bay. Tall, with dark hair and eyes, Pekama was farming near Rangitukia when war broke out in August 1914.

He soon enlisted and in November joined the Maori Contingent. When the contingent left New Zealand in February 1915, Pekama stayed behind for officer training. He went overseas in September 1915 as a second lieutenant with the Second Maori Contingent. In early 1916 the New Zealand forces in Egypt were reorganised, with the two Māori contingents included in a Pioneer Battalion. In April they left for France and the Western Front as part of the New Zealand Division.

The Pioneers dug trenches, built roads and railways, and carried out other engineering and logistical tasks. It was essential and dangerous work, often under heavy fire. A number of Pioneers were killed at the Somme while working in the trenches, among them Pekama’s cousin Lieutenant Henare Kohere. Before he died, Kohere asked that Pekama replace him in charge of his Ngāti Porou platoon. This request was honoured, and in October 1916 Pekama was promoted to lieutenant.

A year later the Pioneers were in Belgium when Pekama became a casualty. Recently promoted to captain, he had just returned from leave in Paris when he and his men were shelled by the Germans around midnight on 14 August. Two men were killed and several others wounded. Pekama ordered the survivors and wounded to retire, but stayed behind to help carry the deceased men. When the trench was shelled again, 23-year-old Pekama was killed.

News of Pekama’s death was received with sorrow. A fellow soldier wrote that ‘the example of his life lived, and finally given for others, will always be of inestimable value to those who knew him.’ [1] Along with that of Henare Kohere, Pekama’s image adorns a stained-glass window at St Mary’s Church in Tikitiki. He is buried at Kandahar Farm Cemetery in Belgium and is also remembered on Gisborne's First World War memorial.

Further information:

Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph record – Kaa

Commonwealth War Graves Commission record – Kaa

'Candidates Passed', Dominion, 19 January 1911, p. 6

'Civil Service', New Zealand Times, 20 February 1913, p. 11

'The Late Lieut. Kohere', Poverty Bay Herald, 17 March 1917, p. 4

'Obituary', Evening Star, 28 September 1917, p. 6

'In a Tight Corner', Poverty Bay Herald, 12 November 1917, p. 7

A window of remembrance - Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou

James Cowan, The Maoris in the Great War: a history of the New Zealand Native Contingent and Pioneer Battalion, Whitcombe & Tombs Limited, Auckland, 1926

Reweti T. Kohere, The story of a Maori chief, Reed Publishing Limited, Wellington, 1949

Henare Kohere biography



[1] ‘Lieut. P. Kaa’, Chronicles of the N.Z.E.F., 5 September 1917, no. 26, p. 27, reprinted in Chronicles of the N.Z.E.F., vol. 3, Cadsonbury Publications, Christchurch, 2014.

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