Reinforcements for the 28th Maori Battalion enjoy Christmas dinner at the Maori Training Depot in Maadi Camp, Egypt.

The kai on the table includes a traditional Maori hāngī, beer, tomato sauce, fruits and what appears to be classic kiwi Pavlovas.

Raised in 1940 as part of the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF), the 28th (Māori) Battalion was attached to the 2nd New Zealand Division as an extra battalion that moved between the division’s three infantry brigades. The battalion fought during the Greek, North African and Italian campaigns, earning a formidable reputation as a fighting force which both Allied and German commanders have acknowledged. It became the most-decorated New Zealand battalion during the war.

Maadi Camp, 14 km south of Cairo, was laid out in 1940 for the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Freyberg, a World War I Victoria Cross winner, selected the site and engineers laid seal, 10 km of water mains and 6 km of drain. Soldiers arrived by train to sleep on straw mattresses, their freezing nights disrupted by the howls of stray dogs and the clatter of fruit bats.

Conditions were far from easy. Bedbugs were insatiable. Desperate soldiers would soak bed boards in kerosene to kill the insects. Boards would be briefly burned to destroy surviving bugs.

Sand was a menace. The worst was the dust whipped up by a vicious wind known as the khamsin. In their diaries soldiers of wrote how khamsin sandstorms made the air full of grit, with the final mouthful of a cup of tea being full of sand. Dust found its way into intimate body parts, causing desert sores so painful that many young men had circumcisions.

(Photograph taken on 25 December 1943 by George Robert Bull — via Alexander Turnbull Library, colourised by Daniel Rarity)