It was a bit of a bombshell. Even though they knew it was coming.
“I am writing to let you know I intend moving the 6 Hauraki Colours from Tauranga to the HQ of 3/6 Battalion at the Auckland Army Centre.”
An advisory from Lieutenant Colonel Olly Te Ua to the Hauraki Association – the group that fosters comradeship among past and present members of the regiment.
The lieutenant colonel had ordered the removal of the Hauraki Colours, the battalion standard, from its home at the Army Hall on the corner of 11th Ave and Devonport Rd and for them to be taken to Auckland where they would be “prominently presented” outside the commanding officer's office.
“Most of us are just sorry it has come to this,” says Des Anderson, the president of the Hauraki Association. Apparently the relocation of some of Tauranga's military history took the association by surprise.
That's because the Hauraki regiment is a fiercely proud bunch – known as the ‘Haus with the warrior motto ‘whaka tangata kia kaha' – acquit yourselves like men, be strong. The standard, the 6 Hauraki Colours, identifies them and ties them to the city – it's a focal point that has made the regiment great, a consecrated symbol embodying the loyalty, spirit and traditions of its soldiers.
Historically the flags served as a rallying point in the heat of battle and were considered a source of inspiration for all those who look upon them. Colours were last carried into battle in 1881 but the ceremonial and spiritual symbolism remains strong.
“People were upset that the Colours were headed to Auckland,” says Des. ”They wrote letters to the commanding officer, they went to our MP and the military. But there was no way they were going to change it.”
It's all to do with amalgamation of the Auckland and Hauraki regiments. “This move is part of the ongoing integration of the two units,” says Lieutenant Colonel Te Ua in his letter to the association. “I am confident the most appropriate location for them is in Auckland ….alongside the Auckland Colours.”
Lieutenant Colonel Te Ua says it's notable for 101 years the Auckland Infantry Battalion was made up of soldiers from four regional territorial units – the 15th North Auckland Regiment, the 3rd Auckland Regiment, the 16th Waikato Regiment and the 6th Hauraki Regiment.
“This gives the units a powerful common bond, and given this association in history, the Hauraki Colours will be at home and well cared for.” Home being HQ, the Auckland Army Centre in Great North Rd, Arch Hill.
“When the battalions amalgamated, we thought it might happen,” says Des. “But the decision took us a bit by surprise.”
The Colours may have belonged to a local regiment, and that's the point – it's no longer a regiment. “We were a territorial unit but now they call us reservists. And the job we are doing today is quite different to what we were doing in 1970.” And like other infantry units the ‘Haus' have, to some degree, lost their identity through amalgamation.
However the commanding ffficer has promised the Hauraki Colours will be treated equally with the Auckland Colours at any occasions where unit Colours are paraded. And should they be ‘laid up', or put to rest, they will be returned to Tauranga. The Hauraki's previous Colours, laid up in 1973, are held at Holy Trinity Cathedral and celebrated with a church service every year.
“The army wanted a low-key affair for the relocation of the 6th Hauraki Colours this week, but news got out and more and more people decided they wanted to be there,” says Des.
Next month there will be a parade in Auckland of all the Colours. “But that doesn't take away from the disappointment,” says Des.