May 16, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Secret Maori (Ngati Ruanui) war hero

2 min read

(Source | MARIKA HILL) THE mystery surrounding a British war hero with a secret Maori bloodline is unveiled in an Anzac Day special docudrama on Maori Television.

Dancing in the Sky tells how the first airman to receive a Victoria Cross, William Rhodes-Moorhouse, owed his existence to an affair between his Maori grandmother and New Zealand settler grandfather.

Actor Tammy Davis, who played Munter in Outrageous Fortune, stars in the film directed by Once Were Warriors star Julian Arahanga.

Rhodes-Moorehouse was a wealthy English gentleman who went on to become a World War I hero.

But Arahanga said most people are unaware of the liaison between the aviation pioneer’s grandfather, William Barnard Rhodes, and Ngati Ruanui grandmother Otahui.

The couple’s romance produced Rhodes-Moorehouse’s mother, Mary Ann, who was adopted by her father and English wife Sarah Ann Moorhouse.

“The Maori ancestry and mystery of that holds a lot of intrigue, and the family being filthy rich opens up a whole lot of questions to explore,” said Arahanga, eldest Heke son Nig in Once Were Warriors.

The family moved back to England, where Rhodes-Moorhouse was born and raised.

He only visited New Zealand once in 1906, where he was warmly greeted by Maori.

“Once I started to read about it I thought, `Wow, this is quite an interesting story.’

“He grew up in a totally foreign world to his relatives who were back here.”

Arahanga found it rewarding to retrace the war hero’s steps through towns in Flanders and Belgium, where he undertook daring bombing raids.

Rhodes-Moorhouse wrote a farewell letter to his wife before departing on the mission that would win him a Victoria Cross for bravery, but also take his young life.

“Re-living the whole experience is quite exhilarating trying to ascertain how it all might have happened,” Arahanga said.

“He was an aviation pioneer, one of the magnificent men and their flying machines.”

It gave the director great satisfaction to put the story of Rhodes-Moorhouse and his family in the public eye.

“Hopefully this will spark something with people and if they’ve got an interest then they can dig a little bit deeper.”

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