Maori being entertained by Egyptian kids
Official photograph of Maori troops at a camp in Egypt with two little boys who have come to visit the men. The children are at the centre of the image, saluting the camera, while the Maori men look on.
As they entered new towns and villages or military camps on all the fronts, the local children were often the first to greet the serving troops from the British Empire. Groups of kids came to meet the combatants and non-combatants who would be stationed near to where they lived. For those in occupied areas, the arrival of new troops could signify welcome intervention and protection. For other children, the troops offered an opportunity for economic gain; the men might spend money on the food, newspapers, and other goods the children brought to camp. Whether trade, curiosity, or relief drove the encounter, representations of these interactions reveal how close and personal they could be. In this official photograph of Maori troops in Egypt with some local children, we can see the children’s desire to be part of the excitement and military pageantry, to move amongst these new visitors. The young boys salute the camera, mimicking the soldiers in uniform and joining in their war games. Though the men are not seen to interact with the boys in the picture, there could be a great deal of fondness for the children whom the troops met, as this encounter enabled them to return to family roles left behind when they departed for war. Though the Maori troops were not segregated in Egypt, children’s freedom to enact interactions and cross racial lines by moving into militarised spaces without detection or suspicion would make a significant difference for the non-white men who were often kept separate from the civilian population. Private Norris Roach wrote about the role of children as go-betweens in his letter.