Howard Chamberlain Victoria Cross at Takrouna: The Haane Manahi Story.
Book Review: Howard Chamberlain Victoria Cross at Takrouna: The Haane Manahi Story, by Paul Moon. Published by Huia Publishers, RRP: $45.
“Oh no! Not the vexed story of the non-award of the Victoria Cross,” I thought on opening this book. However, I sat down to read the story to gain further understanding of the action and the non-award. The result: I found this story a remarkable piece of New Zealand’s military history.
The presentation of Haane Manahi’s genealogicial background was hard to follow because of the ancestors not having a similar family name, and because it has been passed down by word of mouth for many generations and no written records existed until recent times. It was not until the ‘family tree’ diagram was shown that the genealogy became more understandable.
Once the story moved to Manahi’s military service, the relationship back to the generations of fighting leaders became more recognisable. As the author says, very little material written by Manahi exists, so the book is built almost entirely on the recollections of people with whom he served, and those with whom he worked before and after the war. Paul Moon has written well in his account of the action at Takrouna. It is fast, thrilling and exciting, and keeps the reader on the alert as it comes to its conclusion. It is well supported by photographs, then and now.
There is much evidence to support the award of the Victoria Cross. There was obviously very strong support at high levels for the Victoria Cross recommendation to proceed. There was shocked disappointment that Manahi did not receive it.
The failure to award the Victoria Cross to Manahi appears almost certainly, from Moon’s account, to have stopped at one unknown person’s desk. Was this because of an unwillingness to award two Victoria Crosses to a unit in a short period? Or was it because of someone’s aversion to awarding more than a minimal number of VCs to non-Europeans? Unfortunately, this will never be answered.
However, Manahi did receive the Distinguished Conduct Medal, and, after his death, Queen Elizabeth II bestowed further awards recognising his gallantry. These could be likened to Queen Victoria’s scarves given during the South African War.
I found the huge number of end-notes for each chapter (one has 138) a distraction rather than a resource. Much could have been written into the text. The font size of these notes is very small and not easily read by anyone with failing sight.
Manahi‘s gallantry and leadership was recognised. If he was denied the Victoria Cross, he is in the company of several others whose feats of gallantry were downgraded. Some, like Sapper William James Frederick Taylor, whose VC recommendation was misplaced, received no recognition whatsoever Haane Manahi’s gallantry has been recorded. The story is boldly told and he will not be forgotten. It should now rest.