16/792 Lance Corporal Frederick (Fred) Bennett Wi Katene –  NZ Pioneer Battalion  

Of Ngati Toa descent Frederick Bennett Wi Katene was born on 2nd August 1897[i] in Motueka, Nelson, the son of
Wiremu and Hareti / Karani Katene[ii]. Frederick was the third youngest in a family of their thirteen.

On the 16th November 1899 Hareti died, possibly from complication after the birth of the couple’s youngest daughter, Huria Ngarongoa Katene. The family was split up with some going with Wiremu, other to whanau and the youngest three; Frederick, Manu and Huria Ngarongoa Katene to the Anglican orphanage in Motueka[iii].

The orphanage was mainly European and Frederick grew up in this environment to the age of 14 when arrangements
were made to send him to his Aunt Amiria in Pukerua Bay, Wellington.

Due to misunderstandings on arrival dates Frederick arrived in Wellington and was left stranded in the city for up to six days. This event would have a profound effect on Frederick (Fred).

Fred lived in Pukerua Bay for a number of years but then to get future education he went to the Otaki Maori College. Following college Frederick joined the New Zealand Railways as a clerk and was learning telegraphy when
World War One was declared.

On 1st July 1915 Frederick Bennett Wi Katene volunteered for service in the NZEF. His age was ‘adjusted’ his military
papers indicating only that his declared age was 20 and 2 months rather than 18[iv]. Fred was accepted as fit and joined
the 2nd Maori Contingent and listed his father Wi Katene, Lyall Bay, Wellington as his next of kin. Also volunteering for
the 2nd Maori Contingent were his older brothers, Rangi Wi and Taku Katene.  Following basic training the three brothers 16/635 Private Taku, 16/636 Private Rangi Wi and 16/792 Private Frederick Bennett Wi Katene left New Zealand on 18th September 1915, on the HMNZTS Waitemata with other elements of the 2nd  Maori Contingent[v].

Private Katene arrived in Egypt on 26th October 1915, at this stage the Gallipoli campaign was drawing to a close so the brothers remained in Egypt. The withdrawal of the ANZAC Forces from Gallipoli was followed in February 1916 by the formation of the Pioneer Battalion which included elements of the Maori Contingent and also the Otago Mounted Rifles.
A small contingent of 50 Cook Islanders were also formed part of the Pioneer Battalion.  In March 1916 Private Katene was transferred in the Pioneer Battalion for training before, on 9th May 1916, sailing for France.

Private Katene remained on the Western Front to the end of the war going through the major battles of Somme,
Messines and Passchendaele. Private Katene did report that he was gassed during the Battle of Messines and this
impacted on his health for the rest of his life.[vi] Private Katene was promoted to Lance Corporal on 16th June 1918 and
a temporary Corporal  on 1st November 1918.

Corporal  Katene was finally shipped back to England from France on 3rd January 1919 and in England he succumbed to influenza and was admitted to hospital on 27th January 1919 reverting to Lance Corporal. Lance Corporal Katene
remained in hospital for a month and became the last of the brothers to be repatriated back to New Zealand leaving Liverpool, England on 27th March 1919.

Lance Corporal  Katene arrived back in New Zealand on 11th May 1919 and after leave he was discharged from the
NZEF on 7th June 1919 ‘on termination of his period of engagement.’

It is probable that Lance Corporal Katene and his brothers were in a party of soldiers who were welcomed back to Porirua on 20th May 1919[vii]

' Since the beginning of the war, close on one hundred men have left the Porirua District. This, of course, includes members of the Mental Hospital Staff. Last week about fifteen of these soldiers were given a warm reception and welcome home. One pleasing feature was the presecence of four Maori members of the Expeditionary Forces. The hall was packed with old and young, who came to show their respect for those who never return and appreciation of who who have served at the front. . . . .’

Fred returned to work at NZ Railways but after four years resigned
going to work ‘ as suggested by his doctor’ in the open air began
selling real estate in the Porirua area.

In 1929 Fred became one of the founders of Ngati Poneke

‘ it was the beginning of the Great Depression and we, who
were residents of Wellington, wanted to pan ahead for the
many Maori who were coming into the city seeking jobs. We
thought it would be beneficial to establish a committee to
welcome them, and to learn and develop our culture.’

Fred’s arrival in Wellington had given him insight into the impact
on arriving in large city. 

Fred Katene 'On the Phone' c 1945 

Uncle Fred as he was known  became a Justice of the Peace (J P )
and was also awarded the Medal of the British Empire (MBE)[viii]
for his services to Maori.

Frederick Bennett Wi Katene  (Uncle Fred) died on 13th October
1984 and is buried at Takapu Cemetery, Porirua.

Four of Fred’s brothers also served in World War One
19927 Corporal  Hari Wi Hari Katene – NZ Pioneer Battalion
16/636 Private Rangi Wi Katene – NZ Pioneer Battalion
16/623 Lance Corporal Taku Katene – NZ Pioneer Battalion
37771  Private Manu Katene aka Joe Bird Cotton – NZ Pioneer Battalion

Paperspast Online
Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files
Uncle Fred’s Vision for Ngati Poneke: Te Maori Vol 2 Feb 1974

NZ Pioneers France 1918: RSA Collection National Library
Fred Katene on the Phone: National Library ¼- 001630 - F

[i] Archway Archives New Zealand Military files: 16/792 Lance Corporal Frederick Bennett Wi Katene
[ii] NZBDM
[iii] Uncle Fred’s Vision for Ngati Poneke,  
[iv] Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 16/792 Lance Corporal Frederick Bennett Wi Katene
[v] Auckland Cenotaph Database
[vi] Uncle Fred’s Vision for Ngati Poneke
[vii] Welcome Home Social, 20th May 1919, Evening Post
[viii] Uncle Fred’s Vision for Ngati Poneke, 
NZ Pioneer Division - France 1918