Sgt Jack Tainui – Maori Friend
‘Give me the gun,’ were his last words,
and we handed him the Bren gun fully
loaded, as he’d demanded, and turned
away to hide our tears. An anti-tank shell
had blown a hole in his stomach. It would
have killed a lesser man on impact,
but not our Jack. As long as he had breath
he would fight on. Now he would cover us
as he had done many times in Greece
and Crete, and we liked to believe he would
even cover us from beyond the grave.
He was a fighter, tough, unyielding,
but also kindly. We used to tease him
over the German he had shot in Greece,
but hadn’t the heart to finish off,
because he saw him crawl away. ‘For Christ’s
sake, Jack,’ we’d say, ‘we’re here to kill
the bastards, not let them go.
You won’t get a medal for that.’ Jack would
smile and roll a cigarette. He never got
to fire the Bren gun, but we were his
17 Platoon, and we fought on, inspired
by his example. We buried him in
the rocky soil where he had died, then
raised a wooden cross, with the words,
‘Sgt Jack Tainui – Maori Friend,’ and had it
facing the sunrise and the road home.
When the CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Dyer
got to hear of this, he asked for a good
man to accompany him to the grave,
and Boy Tomoana was chosen. At the grave side
he asked to be left alone. When he rejoined
Tomoana, both wept at a brave man’s death.
from Maori Battalion: A Poetic Sequence (Wai-te-ata Press, 2001), © Alistair Te Ariki Campbell 2001, used by permission of the author. Recording from the Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 2004.