Pōkarekare ana, ngā wai o Waiapu
Whiti atu koe hine, marino ana e
(The waves are breaking, against the shores of Waiapu, My heart is aching, for your return my love.)
This moving song, probably written by a homesick Maori soldier during World War One, tells of longing for home and loved ones. For Puri Tea Aperahama, known as Edwin Abraham, this longing was made even more poignant as not only had he left his homeland to study in Australia and then to serve in the war on the Western Front, but during his absence his mother and sister had died of tuberculosis and their deaths troubled him greatly.
War memorial in Edwin Abraham’s home town of Taihape, New Zealand. He is not listed on the memorial, of course, because he served with the AIF.
Taihape war memorial, URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/photo/taihape-war-memorial
(Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 15 July 2013. Image courtesy R.J. Levy, Secretary/Treasurer, Taihape RSA.
41 Private Edwin Abraham (Puri Tea Aperahama) was born in Taihape, New Zealand in about 1894. He was a Maori, who had a ‘splendid record’, according to the authorities when he enlisted at Liverpool, New South Wales on 28 October 1914. He was a student at the Hawkesbury Agricultural College in Richmond, NSW at the time. In addition to being well educated, the authorities recorded that he was of ‘high birth’ and ‘very well to do’.
Hawkesbury Agricultural College medallion.
Image courtesy AWM REL36559.
Private Abraham left Australia with the Army Veterinary Corps and served in France from May 1915 until May 1917 when he first showed symptoms of mental deterioration. By August 1917 he had been evacuated to England where his condition became worse.
His symptoms were described thus by staff at the Lord Derby War Hospital in Warrington, Lancashire:
He is reported as having become confused and unable to concentrate his mind, he was tremulous in limbs and tongue and cannot help twitching … He can answer questions for a time but soon shows mental exhaustion.
Patient is sometimes rigid and at other times liable to twitching. In talking he is rational at first and then inclined to wander. Deep reflexes are well marked. His condition resembles that of marked physical and mental exhaustion. He at present keeps his eyes shut and his head hanging down and is very difficult to extract any information from.
He was returned to Australia in October 1917 with dementia praecox and admitted to the Military Mental Hospital (at the Royal Park Mental Hospital). When his physical condition deteriorated in January 1918, he was moved to the 5th Australian General Hospital in St Kilda Road, Melbourne, where he died of tubercular peritonitis, pneumonia, toxaemia and exhaustion. He was only 23 years old.
Coburg Cemetery Gates, c.1908.
Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society
Pte Abraham was given a military funeral and was buried at Coburg Cemetery in Melbourne’s northern suburbs on 19 January 1918. By the time of his death, his next-of-kin, his sister Mrs Te Ure Manas McTaggart (surname shown as Aperahama in a letter from The Public Trust, New Zealand dated 23/6/1921 in his service record) of Taihape was also dead. He left his estate to her son Peter Manao McTaggart and daughters Puna Manao McTaggart and Heni Kusa McTaggart. His nephew also received his war medals.
I have tried to find the McTaggart children through an extensive Internet search, but with no success. Does anyone have any suggestions as to how I might be able to trace the family and tell them that although Edwin Abraham (Puri Tea Aperahama) is buried far from home, he is not forgotten?
I would also like to know more of his family background, especially his connection (if any) to the tribal leader Aperahama Taonui (born about 1809), whom you can read about in the Encyclopedia of New Zealand at http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2t7/taonui-aperahama.
The Encyclopedia of New Zealand tells of how a Wesleyan missionary renamed the tribal leader Tautoru, giving him the name Aperahama (Abraham), which suggests quite strongly that Private Edwin Abraham is connected in some way to this very important figure in New Zealand history.