Mysterious Victoria Cross decision unearthed

26 Sep, 2017
 
AUT historian Professor Paul Moon's book about Haane Manahi is set to put to bed some long- held myth and rumour.

To be recommended for a Victoria Cross for bravery is an achievement reserved for few but to never have been awarded it, even after extraordinary documented bravery, is a mystery that AUT’s Professor Paul Moon has solved in his latest book about Lance Sergeant Haane Manahi.

The man

Victoria Cross at Takrouna: The Haane Manahi story is the story of Manahi and his exceptional bravery in Tunisia during the Second World War. At the Battle of Takrouna the Sergeant from Te Arawa led a small group of Māori soldiers who captured a fortress on a 200-metre pinnacle that was being held by at least 200 enemy soldiers.

The mystery

Manahi was recommended for a Victoria Cross by seven officers, including Generals Freyberg and Montgomery in 1943, but the award was mysteriously downgraded to a Distinguished Conduct Medal. Until now, little has been known about who made this decision or for what reasons.

Professor Moon was approached by Manahi’s son to write the book which uncovers the man, his life, his courageous feats during the war, and the events surrounding the downgrading of the award for his exemplary act of bravery.

“I accepted the challenge to write the book because I was aware there was a much bigger story behind this man than had ever been revealed,” Moon says.

The myth

Recent allegations have suggested that Manahi, as part of the Maori Battalion, was allegedly involved in war crimes, an accusation Moon hotly refutes.

Allegations of war crimes are very easy to make, he says, and once they enter the historical bloodstream, they are almost impossible to remove. 

“I was fully aware of the allegation that Manahi was involved in war crimes before writing the book, and this is something that intrigued me.  So I put the accusation under the microscope, and found that there was no documented or circumstantial evidence to support the charge.  I also managed finally to track down the source of the allegation.  There is no question, Manahi is definitely innocent of the allegations made against him.”

Moon says an informal quota system for Victoria Cross medals was in place around that time. As another member of the 28th Maori Battalion had received a Victoria Cross for events which took place a few weeks earlier, it was decided in London that Manahi's award should be downgraded.

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