Born in Ohinemutu, New Zealand in 1913, Manahi worked as a laborer before he volunteered for service in the newly raised Māori Battalion of the New Zealand Military Forces following the outbreak of the Second World War. He participated in the Battle of Greece and fought in the Battle of Crete during which he was wounded. After recovering from his wounds he returned to the Māori Battalion, and fought through the Western Desert and Tunisian Campaigns during which he was nominated for a Victoria Cross (VC) for his actions at Takrouna. Despite the support of four generals, his VC nomination was downgraded to an award of a Distinguished Conduct Medal.
In June 1943, he returned to New Zealand on a three-month furlough but when this was completed, was not required to return to active duty. After his discharge from the New Zealand Military Forces, he was employed as a traffic inspector. He was killed in a car crash in 1986. After his death, representations by his Te Arawa iwi (tribe) were made to Buckingham Palace for a posthumous award of the VC. These representations were ultimately unsuccessful due to the period of time that had elapsed since the war. In 2007, he eventually received a special citation for bravery from the Queen.
Haane Te Rauawa Manahi, the youngest son of a farm labourer, was born on 28 September 1913 in Ohinemutu, a village on the shores of Lake Rotorua in the North Island of New Zealand. Of Te Arawa and Ngāti Raukawa descent (and a little Scottish from his mother), he attended local schools in the area up to secondary school level. After leaving school, he worked in road construction and undertook farm work. He also spent time in the timber and building industries alongside his uncle, Matiu, who had served in the first contingent of New Zealand Māori to be raised for military duty during the First World War.
Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Manahi was one of the first men to enlist in November 1939 in the newly formed Māori Battalion. The battalion was composed of a headquarters company and four rifle companies, which were organised along tribal lines. Manahi was assigned to B Company, made up largely of other men from Te Arawa. In May 1940, after a period of training at Trentham Military Camp, the battalion embarked for the Middle East as part of the second echelon of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF). En route, the convoy carrying the second echelon was diverted to England, where it would remain until January 1941 engaged in further training and defensive duties.
On 27 March 1941, Manahi's battalion, having spent two months in Egypt, arrived in Greece to assist in its defence against an anticipated German invasion. It initially took up defensive positions around Olympus Pass, and in the days following the beginning of the invasion on 6 April, rebuffed initial contact by the advancing Germans. The battalion had to withdraw as the flanks of the Allied positions were threatened. B Company was the last of the battalion's units to abandon its positions, and together with the rest of the Allies, withdrew over the following days to Porto Rafti, where it boarded a transport ship for Crete.
On Crete, the Allies dug in for the expected airborne attack by German paratroopers. The Māori Battalion was positioned near the town of Platanias, as a reserve for 5th Infantry Brigade which was tasked with the defence of Maleme Airfield. On 20 May, the attack commenced. Manahi was returning to his trench, having just had breakfast, as planes and gliders flew overhead, discharging paratroopers. During fighting for the airfield, Manahi was wounded in the chest. Despite his wounds, he would remain with his company as it was forced to withdraw to the southwest in the following days and was eventually evacuated from Crete on 31 May.
After a period of recuperation, Manahi returned to the normal routine of training for desert warfare and constructing defensive positions around the Baggush Box. In November he, along with rest of the 2nd Division, participated in Operation Crusader. This involved near constant fighting across Libya for well over a month, during which Manahi, with two others, captured and commandeered a German tank which had been stuck in B Company's trenches. In early 1942, the New Zealanders were withdrawn to Syria for a period of rest and garrison duty.
However, in late May 1942 Rommel and the Afrika Korps attacked into Libya. The 2nd Division was rushed back from Syria and dug in at Minqar Qaim. Encircled by the Germans, the division was forced to breakout on 26 June and withdrew to positions around El Alamein. Here, suffering regular artillery barrages, it dug in to await an expected attack. In late August, no attack had been launched and it was decided a raid for prisoners would be undertaken by two companies, one of them being Manahi's B Company. This was successfully executed on 26 August. The next month, the battalion was taken out of the line for a brief period of rest before returning for the Second Battle of El Alamein. During the fourth stage of the battle, in what was codenamed Operation Supercharge, Manahi and his company was involved in a bayonet charge against well dug in Germans that had resisted a previous attack by another battalion.
By now, it was clear that the Germans were in retreat and the Allies pursued them into Libya and Tunisia. After a battle at Tebaga Gap, during which Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu of the battalion's C Company won the Victoria Cross (VC), planning began for a push into Tunisia's capital city Tunis. Before this could be achieved, a defensive line around Enfidaville needed to be broken.
By April 1943, the 2nd Division had advanced into mountainous country overlooking Enfidaville. Takrouna was a hill, 300 metres high, held by soldiers of the Italian Trieste Division's I/66° Battalion as well as a German platoon. A village was situated on the summit of the hill with a prominent ledge to one side. The Māori Battalion was tasked by Major General Howard Kippenberger, commander of 2nd Division, with the capture of Takrouna, and B Company would make the main assault on 19 April, with C and D companies on the flanks. The initial attack petered out due to heavy gunfire from the enemy. Bennett ordered Manahi, now a lance sergeant, to take his platoon of 12 men to make a feint attack while the remainder of B Company linked up with C Company. The platoon split into two sections, with one under the command of Manahi. At dawn, they began their attack up a steep and at times near sheer slope and were successfully able to overwhelm the Italians defending the ledge, capturing 60 prisoners. The New Zealanders then dug in and prepared for a counterattack. Artillery and mortar fire killed half of the platoon, including its commander. This left Manahi in command.
With two attempts to contact the battalion having failed, Manahi made his way down Takrouna to locate reinforcements and supplies. Ignoring an officer's advice that he abandon the ledge, he returned with a section from C Company as well as ammunition and stretcher bearers. A further platoon arrived to further consolidate his position. The expected counterattack then commenced, and this was successfully beaten off. It was only then, after having been on Takrouna for 16 hours that Manahi and what was left of his section withdrew, leaving the platoon to hold the position.
Despite reinforcements, a further counterattack launched by Italian soldiers of the Trieste Division on 21 April dislodged the New Zealanders and control of the ledge was lost. Kippenberger ordered the Māori Battalion to send reinforcements to rectify the situation. Manahi returned with a platoon to recapture the lost position, and with artillery support the attack was successful and by midday the ledge was reoccupied by the New Zealanders. However, the village on the summit remained in the hands of the Italians. Later in the afternoon of 21 April, Manahi led an attacking party which, working with another party, captured the village and took 300 prisoners. After the battle, he assisted with the recovery of the bodies of his dead comrades.
Manahi's exploits quickly became known throughout the division, and within a few days of his actions a nomination for the VC had been prepared by the commander of his battalion. Brigadier Harding, commander of 5th Infantry Brigade, endorsed the nomination as did four generals (Kippenberger, Freyberg, Montgomery and Alexander). General Henry Maitland Wilson, commander-in-chief, Middle East Forces, likewise endorsed the award after considering the evidence. However, when the nomination reached the Army Council in London, the award was downgraded, most likely by Lord Alanbrooke, to an immediate Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) which was duly gazetted on 22 July 1943.
The decision was a disappointment to many in the 2nd Division. Reports that Manahi's men had killed Italians attempting to surrender were thought by some historians to be a factor in the downgrading of his award. The official New Zealand history of the Māori Battalion stated that the surrendering soldiers were "shot, bayonetted or thrown over a cliff" but only after an Italian grenade had been thrown into a building in which wounded New Zealanders were sheltering. However, these reports may not have emerged until after the downgrading, and at the time the killings were alleged to have occurred, Manahi himself was reportedly dealing with an advance by Italian soldiers against the ledge. Another factor in the downgrading may have been the recent VC nomination for Ngarimu, just three weeks earlier. The subsequent nomination of Manahi, a Māori like Ngarimu and from the same battalion, may have led to a perception that VCs were being too easily awarded.
The surrender of the Axis forces in Tunisia in May left the Allies in control of North Africa. The 2nd Division withdrew to its base in Egypt and it was announced that 6,000 of its personnel would return to New Zealand for a three-month furlough. Manahi, as one of the original members of the Māori Battalion, was among those selected and shipped out on 15 June 1943. However, Manahi was not to return to the war for it was later decided that the Māori soldiers on furlough would be exempt from active duty.
On returning to Rotorua, Manahi entered a carpentry course and then began working at the Rotorua Hospital as a carpenter. Once the war was over, he was selected for the New Zealand Victory Contingent, destined for England to celebrate the Commonwealth's role in the war. As part of the contingent, he participated in the Victory Parade in London on 8 June 1946. This fulfilled his last military obligations, and he was discharged in August 1946.
Following his discharge, Manahi returned to the work force. Employed by the Ministry of Works, he became a traffic inspector which involved traveling around the Bay of Plenty. A keen sportsman, he became involved in swimming coaching as well golf and fishing. When his wife died in 1976, he moved away from Rotorua to nearby Maketu, on the coast. He still commuted to Rotoroa to spend time at the local branch of the New Zealand Returned Servicemen's Association (RSA). On the evening of 29 March 1986, on the way home from the RSA, he was involved in a car crash. He received severe chest and abdominal injuries and was rushed to Tauranga Hospital where he died later in the evening. His tangi (funeral) was held at the marae (tribal meeting area) in his home village of Ohinemutu, and was attended by members of the Maori Battalion. Survived by two sons, he was buried at Muruika cemetery.
The situation regarding Manahi's VC recommendation during the Battle of Takrouna still rankled with many members of the Māori Battalion but while he was alive, Manahi's modesty and unwillingness to bring any attention to himself meant that he was not interested in changing the situation. Following his death, the Manahi VC Committee was established by his former comrades and iwi to lobby for an upgrade to his award.
The committee lobbied the New Zealand government to make representations to Buckingham Palace regarding the posthumous grant of the VC to Manahi. The Queen's father, King George VI, had ruled in 1949 that no further awards from the Second World War ought to be made. The New Zealand government was reluctant to make a formal approach and it took until 1997 for Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley to formally broach the subject with Buckingham Palace. The feedback indicated the elapsed time since the events of Takrouna was likely to be a barrier to awarding Manahi a VC.
Finally, in 2000, Manahi's iwi, Te Arawa, lodged a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal, and was supported in doing so by the New Zealand RSA. Te Arawa alleged the failure of the New Zealand government to give full consideration of the award of a VC to Manahi constituted a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi, which required the government to act in good faith regarding grievances of Māori. In December 2005 the tribunal reported that there was no breach of the treaty. While not making any formal conclusions or recommendations, the tribunal suggested that the Manahi VC Committee work with the New Zealand government in making an approach to Buckingham Palace. In October 2006, after further dialogue with Buckingham Palace, the New Zealand Minister of Defence, Phil Goff, announced that Manahi would be recognised by the presentation of an altar cloth, a personal letter from the Queen acknowledging his gallantry and a sword. The award was presented by Prince Andrew to Manahi's sons, Rauawa and Geoffrey, at a ceremony in Rotorua on 17 March 2007. The sword was later presented to the Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force, Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae, along with a patu (war club) in memory of Haane Manahi.