A tribute to Whitianga’s “brothers in arms”
By Stephan Bosman and Tony Stickley
“Brothers in arms” is an apt description for four Whitianga siblings whose family is honouring their military service during World War II with a special tribute to commemorate ANZAC Day.
Photos of the four soldiers is featuring on a plaque mounted on the back of an authentic 1944 Willys Jeep which will be at the roadside during the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Soldier’s Memorial Park in Whitianga on Monday next week (25 April).
Also remembered on the plaque are three other family members who served in different conflicts around the world.
“When you call it brothers in arms, it is literally true,” said Kerry McCabe (better known as Kezza), whose father, Harvey, is one of the four brothers who lived with their family in Arlington House in Monk Street.
The plaque is paying tribute to brothers Harvey and Roy McCabe, who both saw action in the Western Desert, James McCabe, who served at Guadalcanal, and Sonny who was seriously injured at the well-known railway station battle at Monte Casino while serving with the 28th Māori Battalion.
A fifth brother, Conway, tried to join up but was deemed necessary to New Zealand as he was a boiler maker.
“Our great uncle, Hawi Tenetahi Te Heru, is featuring on the plaque as he served at Gallipoli in 1915 in the Pioneer Battalion, the pre-cursor to the Māori Battalion,” says Kezza. “He was bayonetted in the head at Gallipoli, sent to England to recover and then sent off to the Western Front where he received a hand wound there.”
Roi McCabe, a former detective sergeant who served with distinction with the Australian Army as a tracker behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War, and Keith Lawrence who destroyed a tank during WWII and dragged his wounded superior officer to safety while under fire, is also honoured on the plaque.
“Keith was imprisoned in the same prisoner of war camp as my father,” says Kezza. “After the war, they were to meet again at Keith’s wedding in Hawkes Bay where he married a family member and became Uncle Keith.”
With a deep the interest in his family history, Kezza’s garage has been turned into a mini museum not just for the family’s military links, but to the family origins and history throughout the ages. On the one side is his and his family’s Irish, Scottish and Norse roots which have been traced back vaguely to the 13th century Galloglass mercenaries, and on the other is his Māori lineage which goes back through his grandmother, Ngapeka (“Rebecca”), to paramount Ngāpuhi war chiefs Tamati Waka Nene and his brother Patuone.
The walls of the garage are covered with family history, photographs of servicemen at war and as children in Whitianga, letters from the front and memorabilia, including Kezza’s father’s old army kit bag from the Western Desert.
Kezza’s grandparents had 12 children. “My father and three of his siblings went to war and that is something future generations of our clan should know about,” says Kezza. “By looking at these walls they will learn of their Irish heritage, their Māori heritage, their Whitianga heritage and before that, their Gumtown heritage. They will know that they belong to this valley of kauri, gum and beaches. It runs in their veins this is where their roots are.
“None of this would have happened without the absolute dedication and relentless drive of my cousin Roi, the soldier on the plaque who fought in Vietnam, who completed a university thesis into the Māori Battalion and then continued on a journey into our family’s Māori heritage. Following on from this, my cousin Redvers, Roi’s brother, did research on our family’s Irish side.”
Roi’s research uncovered lesser-known details such as the fact that Kezza’s great uncle, Hawi Tenetahi Te Heru Tenetahi, after serving in Gallipoli and the Western Front, was imprisoned for 272 days and dishonourably discharged for disobeying a superior officer.
Also discovered by Roi was a letter written by Sonny, one of Kezza’s uncles on the plaque, in Italy to his brother James in Gauadalcanal (also on the plaque) saying he wished he was with him, but was glad he wasn’t as he had seen brothers in the 28th Battalion go into battle together and “they worry sick looking after their siblings and when one is killed it is unbearable”.
Kezza’s father, Harvey, was captured in North Africa. He later escaped and made it back to the Allied lines.
Caption 1: The plaque on a 1944 Willys Jeep honouring four McCabe brothers who fought in World War II and other members of the Whitianga family who served in conflicts around the world.
Caption 2: The McCabe siblings in the garden of Arlingham House in Whitianga in 1938. From the left: James, Conway, Paddy, Sonny, Valarie, Harvey, Roy, Shirley, Eileen and Margret. Two of the siblings have passe away at the time the photo was taken.