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'He was really downhearted'

Audio file

Riria Utiku remembers the war at home

Riria Utiku (Ngāti Tama, Te Āti Awa) was born in Wellington in 1916. In 1941 she married Rangi Utiku (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa). Rangi was keen to go to war but every man who volunteered for service had to have a medical examination, to check they were 'the full normal standard of health and strength'. And Rangi had tuberculosis, which was common at the time and one of the conditions doctors were looking out for. The recruiting officer, Henry Tahiwi, knew Rangi and his medical history and turned him away each time he tried to enlist.

Both Riria and Rangi had been active members of the Ngati Poneke Young Maori Club in Wellington before the war. But because so many of Rangi's friends were leaving for overseas, he stopped attending and taking part in the club's performances.

In this extract Riria recalls how Rangi felt about not being able to go to war and how this influenced her attendance at the club:


Riria Utiku: Well Rangi went about three times up there and of course Henry, he was the recruiting officer. 'Out boy, out boy'. He never even got a chance to say, well you know. He was just, well he couldn't go – well I suppose there were plenty of others perhaps went. I don't know.

Interviewer: How did he feel about that?

Riria Utiku: Oh he didn't. He felt – you know – quite down about it. Quite down. And I suppose that's probably perhaps why we got married. Sooner you know as it were – perhaps that's drew us more together. He was really downhearted when he couldn’t go. Whereas I said 'oh well there’s plenty others still here'. I didn't … No he, he sort of – I wouldn’t say he got shy but he just didn’t want to mix up too much. So …

Interviewer: Because a lot of his friends were going.

Riria Utiku: Yes, mmm.

Interviewer: And did you feel through those early war years that did you feel uncomfortable that he wasn't away?

Riria Utiku: Yes I was, yes I felt – that's why I didn’t go to club after a while. I thought no it's not fair … really.

Interviewer: How do you mean?

Riria Utiku: Well, seeing he wasn't going to war – you know having to stay home – and I thought oh well I suppose I should be doing the same.

Interviewer: So you mean it wasn't fair to him for you to go to Ngati Poneke Club. And why couldn't he go to Ngati Poneke?

Riria Utiku: Well he felt pretty awful about all the ones going. I think there were only about three of them really that were left behind. So I said oh well, we'll stay home. But now and again I went.

Interviewer: Did you miss it?

Riria Utiku: I did, I did miss it.

Interviewer: Was there some embarrassment for young men who didn't go to war?

Riria Utiku: Oh yes, they felt it. Especially – well the ones that didn't – 'You're not fit' – that was I think more of a blow. That you weren't fit, weren't fit enough to go to the war.

Interviewer: What was the attitude of people to young men who weren't in uniform?

Riria Utiku: Oh I think some of them used to say outright why aren't you at the war. No hesitation from about of these people sometimes, the way they said it.

Interviewer: I mean was that another reason maybe why Rangi didn't want to go into the club?

Riria Utiku: Oh yes, he didn't want to be performing to all these servicemen as that was mostly what we were doing with all these concerts.

Riria Utiku

Riria Utiku, about 1937 and at home in 2007.

Riria Utiku's wedding

Rangi and Riria Utiku's wartime wedding, 29 March 1941.


Sound file: Interviewed by Alison Parr, 13 November 2007. From the Civilian New Zealanders in the Second World War Oral History Project, Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
Original interview held in Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. Not to be reproduced.

Images: Riria Utiku collection; Alison Parr

How to cite this page

'He was really downhearted', URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated