Ōtaki - Pirimi Perarika Tahiwi

Pirimi Tahiwi joined the Māori Contingent of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in 1914. He was wounded in Gallipoli, but returned to the Front in 1917 as a member of the Māori (Pioneer) Battalion.


Pirimi, or “Prim”, was born in Ōtaki on 16 September, 1890. His father was of Ngāti Raukawa, and his mother was of Te Arawa descent. He began his education at Ōtaki School, later studying at Te Aute College and Ōtaki Native College.

After leaving school, Pirimi trained to be a teacher in Wellington. On completing his training, he returned to Ōtaki to teach at his old high school.

Pirimi was a strong athlete, playing rugby, tennis and golf. In 1913 he became a Māori All Black.

Enlistment and Gallipoli

The following year, when the First World War broke out, Pirimi – who had been a member of the Territorial Force since 1911 – joined the Māori Contingent of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

The Māori Contingent sailed first to Malta, where Pirimi was promoted to the rank of Captain. After several months of garrison duties, the Māori Contingent set out for Gallipoli in June of 1915.

On 7 August, in a week of fighting that took the lives of hundreds of New Zealanders, Pirimi received a gunshot wound in his neck.

The Māori (Pioneer) Battalion

Pirimi was evacuated to England, where he recovered, and led New Zealand troops in the first ANZAC day parade in London in 1916.

In November 1916, Pirimi went back to New Zealand to help train Māori reinforcements. In July 1917, however, he returned to Europe, and joined the Māori (Pioneer) Battalion in France. He returned safely to New Zealand with the remaining members of his battalion in April 1919.

After the war

After the war, Pirimi resumed his teaching career in Ōtaki. He was a strong community presence in Ōtaki, playing rugby, singing in the local choir, and playing in the Ōtaki Maori Brass Band.

When war broke out again in 1939, Pirimi once more volunteered to serve with the armed forces. He did so – without seeing service overseas – until 1943. In June of that year he married Mairatea Pitt-Porutu, of Te Āti Awa, at Rangiatea Church in Ōtaki.

The newlyweds moved to Wellington, where Pirimi worked at Wellington Hospital’s head office until his retirement in 1958. He was also involved with many community organisations.

When the 50th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings took place in 1965, Pirimi was the last surviving officer of the Māori Contingent. He and his wife travelled to Turkey, where Pirimi laid a mere on the memorial to those soldiers who had lost their lives at Chunuk Bair.

Captain Pirimi Pererika Tahiwi died four years later, on 30 July 1969. He is buried in the cemetery of the church in which he was married, in Ōtaki.

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Image credits

  1. Photo from Te Hokowhitu a Tū: the Maori Pioneer Battalion in the First World War by Chris Pugsley (Reed: Auckland, 1995), p. 32. Credited to Wilson & Horton.
  2. “Provincial Centres: Otaki”, the Dominion, Volume 3, Issue 730, 1 February 1910, Page 3.
  3. Maori Pioneer Battalion aboard ship before their departure. Ref: 1/2-091150-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
  4. Malta. Snapshots in camp and around London album. Ref: PA1-o-471-22-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
  5. Maori Contingent, No 1 Outpost, Gallipoli, Turkey. Read, J C :Images of the Gallipoli campaign. Ref: 1/4-058101-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
  6. The Dominion, Volume 9, Issue 2756, 27 April 1916, Page 6.
  7. The Dominion, Volume 12, Issue 288, 1 September 1919, Page 2.
  8. Rangiatea Church, Otaki. New Zealand Free Lance : Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-6203-58. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
  9.  'New Zealand Memorial at Chunuk Bair', NZHistory.net , updated 19 May 2014.