Story: Te Wainohu, Henare Wepiha

Page 1 - Biography

Te Wainohu, Henare Wepiha

1882–1920

Ngati Kahungunu and Ngati Pahauwera leader, Anglican clergyman, army chaplain

This biography was written by Grant Nikora Wainohu and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 3, 1996

When soldiers of the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion recalled 'the Padre' they spoke with genuine warmth of the Reverend Henare Wepiha Te Wainohu. As chaplain to the Maori troops during the First World War, Te Wainohu made an enduring impression on the soldiers to whom he ministered. At a time when they were separated from their own people and exposed to great danger, he provided these younger men with spiritual and cultural support and guidance.

Henare Wepiha Te Wainohu was born at Mohaka, Hawke's Bay, on 4 June 1882. His father, Wepiha Te Wainohu, belonged to Ngati Pahauwera and Ngati Kura Hikakawa of Ngati Kahungunu, and was a direct descendant of Kahungunu and Te Huki. His mother was Para Te Aho of the hapu Ngai Tuhemata. He had an elder brother, Paora Tukutuku, and a younger sister, Neti Waikouka. Brought up on the family sheep and dairy farm at Mohaka, Henare Te Wainohu was enrolled at Te Aute College in 1896.

Around this time the school was going through a form of religious revival. Students sang hymns instead of their usual songs at rugby matches and other social occasions, and some formed a students' Christian Union whose members preached the gospel and social reform. A few students opposed this revival and formed an alternative group called the Te Kooti Gang: Henare Te Wainohu was one of the leaders. The Te Kooti Gang rejected most Christian ideas, and instead promoted traditional Maori beliefs as practised by the Hauhau. At first they persuaded many students to join them, but later the members of the group – including Te Wainohu – joined the students' Christian Union.

As well as acquiring a strong Christian faith at Te Aute, Te Wainohu developed other qualities that were to stand him in good stead as a clergyman. He excelled at rugby, and on the sportsfield learned the importance of self-discipline and teamwork. He was one of the outstanding players in the team that trounced a touring South Island secondary school team in 1898; he led the haka on the field and later at the after-match performances. Because of his rugby prowess and fierce determination, his team mates nicknamed him 'Taika' (tiger). During his time at the school he formed friendships that were to be revived during the war.

While attending a hui at Gisborne in 1901, Te Wainohu decided to visit his Te Aute schoolmates Poihipi Kohere, Turei Paraone and R. Hiwinui who were then studying at Te Rau Theological College. They persuaded him to enrol at the college. There he furthered his general education and learned to speak English fluently, as well as acquiring theological qualifications. He was made a deacon on 30 September 1906, and after working at Wairoa under the guidance of the Reverend Aperahama Tamihere was ordained a priest on 21 December 1908. He then served in the Wairoa Maori District. He married Erena Kingi: there were no children of the marriage.

At the outbreak of the First World War Te Wainohu was attached to the New Zealand Chaplains Department. He was appointed chaplain to the Maori Contingent, which left New Zealand for Egypt on 14 February 1915 aboard the troopship Warrimoo. At first there was official opposition to sending Maori troops into battle, and after months of training in Egypt and garrison duty at Malta they were becoming restless. Eventually the Maori Contingent was sent to reinforce the New Zealand troops at Gallipoli, arriving in July 1915. On 6 August they were sent into battle beside their Pakeha comrades at Sari Bair. On the eve of the battle Te Wainohu preached a sermon that was later much quoted and which formed the basis for a proverb. As well as exhorting the soldiers to be fearless in battle and not to turn their backs on the enemy, he reminded them of their duty to uphold the warrior tradition of the Maori: 'remember you have the mana, the honour and the good name of the Maori people in your keeping this night'. This appeal, in particular, gave courage to the soldiers.

Henare Te Wainohu risked his life for others on many occasions at Gallipoli. In the company of the medical officer, Major Peter Buck, he carried out the wounded, distributed water, and comforted the dying – often under fire. He was wounded in the back in September 1915. After the evacuation of Gallipoli, Te Wainohu accompanied the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion, in which the contingent was now integrated, to France.

During the war the Maori newspaper Te Kopara published some of Te Wainohu's letters home. In one of these he answered the criticism that Maori troops had been split up into platoons and forced to fight with Pakeha battalions. He and Buck had attempted to persuade General A. J. Godley to keep the Maori Contingent together in 1915, but had been told that they did not have sufficient experienced officers. Other letters revealed Te Wainohu's concern for the moral and spiritual welfare of Maori soldiers, particularly those troops training in England, who for a time were without their own chaplain. He supported the publication of prayer books in Maori, and towards the end of the war visited the wounded in London hospitals. He was awarded various medals, including the Serbian Order of the White Eagle (fifth class) and was mentioned in dispatches for his services in France in 1918.

On his return to New Zealand, Henare Te Wainohu worked in the Wairoa Maori District, in Hawke's Bay. He promoted fund-raising schemes to benefit soldiers and their families, and took a prominent part in major hui in 1919. He contracted stomach cancer and died at Wairoa on 1 October 1920, aged only 38; his wife survived him. A statue of him was erected at Wairoa and was unveiled on 16 January 1924 by Peter Buck; the archdeacon of Waiapu, Herbert Williams, conducted the service. Over a thousand people, including Apirana Ngata and Sir James Carroll, attended. The early death of Henare Wepiha Te Wainohu deprived the Anglican church and the Maori people of a trusted and experienced leader at a time when his skills were much needed.