Topic: Kawenata Kemp (1894-1918)

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During World War I, Kawenata Kemp served with the Maori Pioneer Battalion which was attached to the New Zealand Tunnelling Company. He became ill in France and was transferred to London and then home to New Zealand on board the hospital ship 'Marama'. Kemp died of tuberculosis, aged 23, on 28 January 1918. Story by Debbie McCauley.

Kawenata Kemp was born in Palmerston North on 8 August 1894. He was the son of Taiporutu Kemp from Okauia near Matamata.

He worked as a labourer for Sanford Limited in Tauranga. Sanford Limited had expanded to Tauranga in 1907, purchasing property and establishing a fish curing plant. 

Kawenata enlisted to serve during World War I from Tauranga on 27 May 1916. His last address was given as Matakana Island in Tauranga. The Bay of Plenty Times reported on 29 May 1916: Captain Mirrielees despatched to Auckland on Saturday morning three natives – Hautu Toitoi, Kawenata Kemp and George Rameka – to join the Maori Reinforcements (p. 2)

Kawenata was with the Maori Pioneer Battalion, attached to the New Zealand Tunnelling Company on the Western Front43 members of the NZ (Maori) Pioneers served with the New Zealand Tunnelling Company from 9 December 1916. In September of 1916 the discovery of medieval subterranea quarries and cellars at Arras meant that a counter-tactic to German underground mining could be employed. The tunnellers were to help enlarge and make safe a vast network that would house around 12,000 men. Tunnels would be extended to reach underneath strategic enemy positions so troops could safely travel from the centre of Arras to the German front line. It was a massive undertaking.

The tunnel exits were blown in no-man’s-land on 9 April 1917, and men poured out. The Battle of Arras (9 April-16 May) had begun.

On 6 August 1917 he was became ill in France and was admitted to hospital, being transferred to London on 20 August suffering from severe bronchitis. On 21 November 1917 he was sent home to New Zealand from Avonmouth on board the hospital ship Marama.

Private Kawenata Kemp died of tuberculosis at Okawea in New Zealand on 28 January 1918. He was aged 23. He was buried in the Okauia Urupa, near Matamata, in the Waikato.

Kawenata Kemp (1894-1918)


Archives New Zealand: Military personnel file.

Auckland War Memorial Museum: Cenotaph Record.

Bay of Plenty Times (29 May 1916, p. 2).

Births, Deaths & Marriages Online (New Zealand).

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Kawenata Kemp (1894-1918)

Note:Service Number: 20678
First Names:Kawenata
Last Name:Kemp
Date of Birth:8 August 1894
Place of Birth:Palmerston North
Country of birth:New Zealand
Date of death:28 January 1918
Place of death:Okawea, New Zealand
Place of burial:Okauia Urupa, Matamata
Fathers name:Taiporutu Kemp
Military Service:World War I (1914-1918)

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