Māori and Pacific units

Page 2 – Māori units

New Zealand Pioneer
New Zealand Pioneer (Maori) Battalion flag

In early 1915 the government sent the New Zealand Maori Contingent to join the New Zealand forces in Egypt. Its soldiers were drawn from iwi across the country and it was eventually organised in companies corresponding to the four Māori electorates. This was a distinctively Maori contribution to the Imperial war effort.

The Maori Contingent was assigned to garrison duty in Malta, but manpower shortages on Gallipoli led to it serving there as an infantry unit from August to December 1915.

The Contingent was reconstituted as a ‘Pioneer Battalion’ in early 1916, as part of the newly-formed New Zealand Division about to move to the Western Front. Two of the Pioneer Battalion’s four companies were made up of the former Maori Contingent, with the other two drawn largely from the Otago Mounted Rifles.

Pioneers were not front-line fighting units but a military labour force trained and organised to work on engineering duties, digging trenches, building roads and railways, and taking on other logistical tasks. This was essential and dangerous work that was often carried out under fire.

The Pioneer Battalion served with the New Zealand forces on the Western Front from April 1916, and in September 1917 was redesignated the New Zealand Maori (Pioneer) Battalion when all its companies were filled by Māori.

Read our main feature on Maori units.

NameUnit attached toDatesFurther information
Maori ContingentNew Zealand and Australian Division headquartersNov 1914–Mar 1916Unit diaries at Australian War Memorial
New Zealand Pioneer BattalionNew Zealand Division headquartersMar 1916–Sep 1917


New Zealand Maori (Pioneer) BattalionNew Zealand Division headquartersSep 1917–Mar 1919 

Badges and shoulder titles

1914-15 badge

New Zealand Maori (Native) Contingent badge, 1914-Feb 1916

1916-17 badge

New Zealand Pioneer Battalion badge Feb 1916-Sep 1917

Maori Pioneer badge 1917-19

New Zealand Maori (Pioneer) Battalion badge Sep 1917-Apr 1919 

Cook Island company badge

New Zealand Cook Islands Company badge 1916-18

The crest of the Maori Contingent badge includes two traditional Māori weapons, the taiaha and tewhatewha, crossed through a crown. The motto 'Te Hokowhitu a Tū' signified the 140 warriors of the war god, Tu-mata-uenga. The initials 'NZNC' were used as 'NZMC' would have invited confusion with the Medical Corps.

The Pioneers' badge features a Māori warrior's face above a crossed pick and axe, flanked by fernleaf fronds and the words 'NZ Pioneers'.

NZ Native Contingent title badge

Shoulder title for the Native Contingent

NZ Maori Contingent shoulder title

New Zealand Maori shoulder title.

How to cite this page

'Māori units', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/maori-and-pacific-units/maori-units, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 26-Mar-2019

Community contributions

1 comment has been posted about Māori units

What do you know?

Brent Nunns

Posted: 31 Aug 2017

The information regarding the "New Zealand Maori (Native) Contingent badge, 1914-Feb 1916" is incorrect, the badges depicted were worn by Maori reinforcements circa 1916 to 1918.
The information regarding the "New Zealand Cook Islands Company badge 1916-18" is incorrect, the badges depicted were worn during WW2.