Dead honoured in reflective ceremony

By John Cousins

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Battle of Gate Pa. The Military Memorial Service.
Battle of Gate Pa. The Military Memorial Service.

The combined dead of the Battle of Gate Pa was honoured at Tauranga's Mission Cemetery today when the Bishop of Waikato eloquently delivered the message of how 150 years ago today men "sought to extinguish each other's lives on a rainy afternoon on a green hillside not too distant from this place".

Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley welcomed about 300 people to the Military Memorial Service, with strong representation from the Anglican Church, the armed services and Maori iwi and hapu whose ancestors laid down their lives in the history defining battle at Gate Pa.

"We come here to seek a lesson for their loss so that they will not have died in vain," she said.

Bishop Hartley asked what a different place it would have been if General Cameron and the Maori chiefs had acknowledge their common humanity and sat down over kai and a pipe to talk about their differences and how to resolve them.

"It has taken us 150 years to repair what was supposed to be easy and quick. It has taken us 150 years to realise that we can build a strong community by working together and by having a vision for the future that is shared by us all...our grief is surely the grief of what might have been, no, what should have been," she said.

The service featured the laying of wreaths by people representing those who fought the battle - the armed services and the Maori combatants, with the memorial to Rawiri Puhiraki, the Ngai Te Rangi chief who led the battle and defeated the English forces, a prominent feature of the cemetery which was formerly the site of the Otamataha Pa.

Ngaitamarawaho kaumatua Morehu Ngatoko began the service with a mihi in which he said that he had lived in Tauranga for a long time and it was the first time he had seen so many people gathered at the cemetery at the invitation of iwi to honour the people buried there.

"I grieve in my heart for us all."

The ceremony followed wet but powerful dawn blessings of pou lining the side of Pukehinahina Reserve this morning.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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