Members of the 28 (Māori) Battalion Eating Christmas Dinner in the desert.

Celebrating Christmas in the Desert, 1942

22 Dec 2016
This is just one of many Christmas taonga held in the Sound Collection of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.

By Sarah Johnston (Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)

Hero image: Members of the 28th (Māori) Battalion eating Christmas Dinner in the desert, in Nofilia (Libia), on 25 December 1942 (Photo by Dr C N D’Arcy from the National Library).

Silent Night | Tapu te Po - Excerpt from 'Christmas at a New Zealand General Hospital' (1942)

A recording of the carol “Silent Night” or “Tapu te Po,” sung in te reo Māori and English by men of the 28th Māori Battalion in North Africa in 1942.

It is part of a series of recordings made by the National Broadcasting Service’s Mobile Recording Unit, in a New Zealand military hospital.  The men singing on the recording had been wounded in the Battle of El Alamein in October and November 1942, and were gathered together by Nurse Wiki Katene (Ngāti Toa) of Porirua, to make the recording which would be broadcast back in New Zealand at Christmas.

Soldiers at the 28th New Zealand (Māori) Battalion Headquarters in Nofilia, having Christmas dinner.

Having Christmas dinner at the 28th NZ (Māori) Battalion Headquarters in Nofilia,1942 - H D Irwin, P Manawatu, C H Wickliffe, and stretcher-bearers. Lieutenant-Colonel C M Bennett is on the right. (Photo by Dr C N D’Arcy, from the National Library)

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Bennett - Excerpt from 'My Memory of Christmas' (1960s)

In December 1942 the comrades of these wounded men were still fighting General Rommel’s German forces, the famous “Desert Rats,” pursuing them across the desert through Libya towards the city of Tripoli which the New Zealanders would take in January 1943.

In another recording, made in the 1960s, their commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles Bennett (Ngāti Whakaue), recalled how the men celebrated Christmas Day in the desert that year, and managed to enjoy a traditional hāngī, although they were far from home and whānau.

Visit the 28th Māori Battalion’s website, to listen to recorded Christmas greetings, the men recorded for their whānau.

Hear more about these recordings on RNZ, where Sarah Johnston discusses it with Jesse Mulligan.