John Walter Callaway (Wāta te Wahahuia) is credited with being the first Māori to serve in the South African War.
Walter, as he was commonly known, was born in 1873 in Kikawhakerere to a Cornish father, John Callaway, and a Māori mother, Huihana Te Arawaere, of Te Ngare hapū of Ngāi Te Rangi iwi.
Raised in the Coromandel, Callaway was working as a miner when the outbreak of the war was announced. Already a member of the Coromandel Volunteer Rifles, he was selected, with three others, to join the remaining volunteers from the Auckland military district.
After arriving in South Africa with the First Contingent, Callaway served as both a despatch rider and as a scout, being recognised for ‘Meritorious Service’ by the British Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Lord Frederick Roberts. He served with the British forces that relieved the besieged town of Kimberley on 15 February 1900 and with those that managed to break the Boer defences at Driefontein, for which he was awarded the Driefontein clasp. During the remainder of his time in South Africa he took part in the advances into the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Before departing for home on 3 November 1900 he was promoted to Lance Corporal.
Back in New Zealand, Callaway applied to return to South Africa and was assigned to the Seventh Contingent as Regimental Sergeant-Major. The Seventh took part in the treks that were aimed at countering the Boer commandos. On 22 July 1901 Callaway was wounded at the Battle of Witkop while risking his own safety to rescue two fellow soldiers. As a result of his injury he developed malaria; although he recovered he returned home in December 1901.
Wishing to advance his career, Callaway applied once again to serve as an officer in South Africa. Although his application was rejected, he left for South Africa unofficially, hoping to rejoin the Seventh Contingent. Finding the Seventh was due to return to New Zealand, he transferred to the Ninth Contingent. He served with the Ninth during the peacekeeping process and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.
On his final return to New Zealand Calloway contracted smallpox, becoming the first recognised case of the disease in New Zealand. Although he managed to recover, his wounds and the effects of the illness left him weakened throughout the rest of his life. He died on 16 September 1926.
By Simon Daisley