ON the north wall of Northallerton parish church is a grand memorial, unveiled 150 years ago last month, to a local war hero who had died in battle on the other side of the world.

The plaque, and the report of the unveiling in the Darlington & Stockton Times, says that Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Booth had been “mortally wounded at the head of his men, while leading the attack in the storming of a fortification at the Tauranga”.

But neither the plaque nor The Northern Echo’s sister paper mentions that the local hero was killed in one of Britain’s most humiliating defeats.

The memorial, which is above a display dedicated to the church’s new heating system, has three panels. The grand central one is dedicated to Lt-Col Henry Booth Snr who, it says, was most notably associated with Brush House, Ecclesfield, which is near Sheffield.

The Booths appear to have made money in iron and steel and had bought the country residence at Brush in 1708. It is now a residential home.

The panel tells how Lt-Col Booth Snr fought with the Duke of Wellington and Sir John Moore through the Peninsular War in Spain, against Napoleon, from 1807 to 1814. In 1837, Lt-Col Booth had been leading his men in New Brunswick, Canada, where he had contracted a severe illness. He’d returned to Northallerton where he’d died in 1841 aged 51.

His Northallerton-born son, also Henry, would have been 11 at the time.

Young Henry joined the same regiment as his father, the 43rd (Monmouthsire), and had served in the Kaffir Wars in the 1850s – a series of wars between the British and the indigenous population in South Africa – before moving on to New Zealand, where the Maoris were also proving reluctant to be colonised.

The British had heard that the Maoris had a gunpowder store near Tauranga, in the north, on the Bay of Plenty, so they built two redoubts, or forts, nearby to keep an eye on them and stop them moving any explosives. One of the redoubts was called Monmouth and the other was called Durham.

The 250 Maoris, led by Puhirake, holed up in their “pa” (a hilltop fortification) and taunted the 1,700 British soldiers until, on April 29, 1864, the 43rd could take no more. They bombarded the pa for eight hours, dropping 30 tonnes of shells upon its earthwork and timber palisading, until no sign of life could be seen.

Then, 300 British men, bayonets fixed, charged, with Lt-Col Booth at the front.

They stormed into the pa with surprising ease – but the Maoris were waiting in subterranean holes. When the British were effectively trapped inside the pa, the Maoris – characterised by the British press as “a horde of half-naked, half-armed savages” – swarmed out and massacred their foe.

By the time the British had worked out how to run away, 35 of them were dead, including Lt-Col Booth, and at least 75 injured. The out-numbered Maoris lost 25 warriors – and the rest of them managed to escape from their pa unnoticed while the British were licking their wounds.

The Battle of Gate Pa was, therefore, a humiliating defeat for the British.

The Northallerton man was buried in a new cemetery with the distinctive shape of Mount Maungarnui behind. The Illustrated London News provided a drawing of it in July 1864, and said: “Two weeping willows, and a cabbage-tree with a clump of aloes, mark the spot where the British soldiers and sailors are interred in thirty-two graves, which are disposed in three parallel lines. Lieutenant-Colonel Booth, of the 43rd Regiment, is buried on the left hand, close to the aloes; his men are buried to the right of him. “

Five years later, the people of Northallerton commemorated their war hero by putting the memorial in their church next to his father’s.

The D&S Times finished its report of the unveiling of the memorial by saying: “The late Lt-Col Booth we believe was very much beloved by his men, inasmuch as a very handsome monument was erected to his memory in the cemetery at Tauranga, to which all officers, non-commissioned officers and privates subscribed one day’s pay, and we see with regret that a record to that effect has been omitted in the tablet lately erected in this church.”

The New Zealand government tells Memories that the memorial still stands in Tauranga, its lettering replaced in 1909 as it had become badly weathered.

But, Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, also says that Lt-Col Booth’s 43rd (Monmouthshire) Regiment was reinforced by the 68th (Durham) Regiment – which, of course, was the forerunner of the Durham Light Infantry, hence the name of the redoubt.

On June 21, 1864, the British discovered Puhirake and his men had joined up with other warriors and were building another pa. So they attacked them.

“The battle that followed was among the bloodiest of the New Zealand Wars,” says the ministry. “In desperate hand-to-hand fighting, British troops exacted terrible vengeance for Gate Pā. The Māori garrison was unable to hold the incomplete defences and, when Puhirake was killed, those able to do so retreated.”

Two of the British soldiers, both of whom were Irishmen, were awarded the Victoria Cross: Lt-Col Frederick Smith, of the 43rd who was commanding a contingent from the 68th, and Sgt John Murray, of the 68th – these, then, are among the first in a long line of members of the DLI to win the highest award for bravery.

“The one-sided battle effectively ended local resistance,” says the ministry. The British had taken control of New Zealand with the help of a commander from Northallerton.