Māori and the Second World War

Page 3 – The home front

The Home Front

Maori War Effort Organisation

Māori were active on the Home Front, involving themselves in the huge fund-raising and production efforts that New Zealanders undertook during the 1940s. Many came to the cities to work in munitions and other factories, beginning the pattern of urban migration that would accelerate after the war. Despite this, the major Māori contribution to the war was their work on farms producing food. 

On 3 June 1942 a Maori War Effort Organisation (MWEO) was established. The country was divided into 21 zones, and 315 tribal committees were formed. The committees’ main functions were to assist with recruiting and primary production, and to co-operate in the direction of Maori manpower. Colonel H.C. Hemphill led the organisation and dealt directly with Paraire Paikea, the Member of Parliament for Northern Maori and minister in charge of the Māori war effort.

For more on the MWEO see: Fighting for equality – The Maori War Effort Organisation 1942–1945

Māori women and the Second World War

The MWEO offered many Māori women the opportunity to work in the cities, replacing men in essential industries. A small number served abroad with the New Zealand Army Nursing Service.

During the war many Māori women worked tirelessly gathering and preparing seafood and non-perishable foods to send overseas. Dehydration was used to preserve karengo (seaweed), pipi, pūpū, shark, crayfish tails, kūmara and karaka berries; other food was preserved in pork fat, sealed in tins and sent away. Women knitted balaclavas, socks, mittens, gloves and scarves; some sewed ‘himi paranene’ (flannel singlets), baked fruit cakes and plain biscuits.

Te Puea Hērangi also helped raise thousands of pounds for the Red Cross by organising dances and garden parties and selling fresh farm produce. (One estimate suggested she was personally responsible for raising between £30,000 and £40,000.) Tainui organised concerts for soldiers and in 1942 extended this to American troops stationed in New Zealand.

How to cite this page

'The home front', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/maori-and-the-second-world-war/home-front, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 1-May-2020