Champs-Elysees parade looms large

By Roger Moroney

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Hawke's Bay-born Army officer Mario Ropitini (left) will be marching in Paris this week. Photo / NZ Defence
Hawke's Bay-born Army officer Mario Ropitini (left) will be marching in Paris this week. Photo / NZ Defence

When Hawke's Bay man Mario Ropitini takes his first steps in one of the most historic and largest military parades in the world this Thursday his thoughts will be with his iwi, and of a great-great uncle.

As Army Warrant Officer Class One, and one of 86 New Zealand Defence Force Personnel set to march through the Champs-Elysees in the centre of Paris during the French Bastille Day Military Parade, he will part of a remembrance of New Zealand units which served during World War I - with the colours and flags of those units being paraded together outside of New Zealand for the first time.

Like many other defence force personnel in the marching contingent, he has a personal connection to France. The connection was forged by the Ngati Kahungunu iwi on his father's side, which has links to the Smith whanau.

"My great-great uncle Private Joseph Smith served in the 2nd Maori Pioneer Battalion in Egypt and on the Western Front," Warrant Officer Ropitini said.

"When we march a lot of us will be thinking of our ancestors and the sacrifice they made on French soil."

Private Joseph Smith came from Nuhaka.

Warrant Officer Ropitini is the Regimental Sergeant Major of Linton-based Queen Alexandra's Mounted Rifles, Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2014 and is one of the oldest standing units in the New Zealand Defence Force.

He is also the guardian of its guidon.

Guidons are swallow-tailed flags that symbolise the spirit of a mounted unit or regiment and include honours and badges granted for battles they have participated in since they were raised.

Although the guidon does not carry battle honours from service in France during World War I, the Queen Alexandra's Mounted Rifles have a special connection to that country and the Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps day (November 20) is the anniversary of the Battle of Cambrai, the first major tank engagement of World War I. "It will be an absolute privilege to march beside the other colours, banners and ensigns representing the New Zealand Defence Force on this historic occasion," Warrant Officer Ropitini said.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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