A traditional Maori skirt which was worn by the captain of HMS New Zealand during the Battle of Jutland has gone on show in a major exhibition at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth.
The piupiu skirt, which was considered an item of good luck, was originally gifted to Captain Lionel Halsey, commanding officer of the battleship HMS New Zealand, during the ship’s visit to its namesake country in 1913.
The government and people of New Zealand paid for the battlecruiser and several New Zealanders served on board during the 1916 battle.
Jutland is commemorated in the exhibition which opened today. It was the greatest naval battle ever involving 250 ships and 100,000 men.
The Maori skirt is just one of the many items on show in the largest exhibition ever assembled about the battle.
A NMRN spokeswoman said: “Legend has it that the Maori chief presenting the piupiu made three prophecies.
“The first was that the ship would be involved in three sea battles; that the ship would be hit only once and that no one on board would be killed.
“The chief requested that Halsey wear the piupiu in battle to protect the ship and crew.”
In May 1915, Halsey was promoted and appointed to another ship but he passed the piupiu skirt to his successor, Captain JFE Green, who having been told of the Maori chief’s request, did actually wear it during the Battle of Jutland on May 31 1916.
The spokeswoman said: “Again, the ship came under heavy fire but was hit only once, sustaining minor damage and no casualties. The piupiu remained on board the ship until the surrender of the German fleet in 1918.”
The piupiu was then returned to Halsey who later lent it to the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy to be displayed in the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition in Wellington, 1940.
Upon his death in 1949, Halsey (then Admiral Sir Halsey) left the skirt to his youngest daughter Ruth Halsey.
Her sister, Mrs Joan Wood, recalled: “Lord Mountbatten tried hard to get hold of the Maori skirt when my father died, but my sister was having none of that.”
As Ruth Halsey’s wish was for the piupiu to return to New Zealand, after she died in April 2002 her nephew [Halsey’s grandson] John Wood offered it to the Navy Museum which has loaned it for the exhibition 36 Hours: Jutland 1916 at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
Lieutenant Commander Ian Andrew, logistics adviser with the New Zealand Defence Force in London, said: “Throughout history sailors have generally been quite superstitious and anything that brings good luck is welcome on board a ship.
“A ship is more than just the nuts and bolts, the engines; it’s the people on board, it’s the crew. They are the life and soul, they are the actual spirit of the ship.
“Having something like the piupiu presented from the people of New Zealand to the ship HMS New Zealand, would naturally give the crew something to bond to or identify themselves with and pull them all together, which is hugely important on any ship.”
The National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy has also loaned the bell hanging bracket from HMS New Zealand which was made from pennies donated by the country’s schoolchildren.