Battalion veteran marks 95th birthday

By Mike Barrington

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Only 22 remain of the 3600 men who served with the 28 Maori Battalion, which will formally disband this weekend.

And Sol Te Whata, of Moerewa, is just one of the three A Company "Gumdiggers" left after the battalion's 1941-45 battles in North Africa and Italy and the scythe of Father Time over the past 67 years.

Mr Te Whata will celebrate his 95th birthday today. He's a great-great-great-grandfather and reckons he'll make 100 with his third wife Martha, 70, looking after him.

Cadets and staff from the Leadership Academy of A Company in Whangarei will be at the birthday party. Mr Te Whata, who is the academy patron, was guest of honour at the academy ball and prizegiving in Forum North last weekend.

New Zealand amateur middleweight boxing champion and former academy staff member Kahukura Bentson awarded two gold bars to Shane Witehira for representing the national U/17 mens' volleyball and beach volleyball teams.

Awards for the three main pou of the academy were: Be Maori, Cadet Louis Paul; Be Educated, Corporal Harley Iraia; Be Rangatira joint award, Sergeants Mana Ashby, Jesse Tipene and Camron Muriwai.

Carved waka hoe were awarded to departing seniors: Staff Sergeant Toni Joseph Tautari, now working in Whangarei; Sergeant Te Piha Niha, studying media and creative technologies at Waikato University next year; Sergeant Jesse Tipene, to study physical education at Otago University; Sergeant Camron Muriwai, to study sport and recreation at NorthTec; Corporal Harley Iraia, arts degree in psychology at Otago University; Sergeant Mana Ashby, commerce degree at Otago University; Sergeant Kauri Palmer has a $10,000 scholarship to attend Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland; and Corporal Te Awhio Repia will study Matauranga Maori at Te Wananga o Raukawa.

After a changing of the guard ceremony in which the oldest departing cadet, Staff Sergeant Toni Joseph Tautari, passed the academy drill cane to the oldest remaining cadet, Corporal Shane Witehira, junior cadets responded with the academy haka, Ae Marika.

The representative of the 2012 William (Ben) Porter intake, his son Jim Porter, then handed the academy emblem on a brassard to Helene Leaf, granddaughter of Harding Leaf whom the 2013 intake will be named after. Harding Leaf was a Maori Battalion legend, serving in both world wars.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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