One of the last two Northland members of the famous Maori Battalion, 96-year-old Solomon Whakahoro Te Whata, has fought his last battle.
He passed away peacefully at his Moerewa home on Sunday surrounded by family and friends. He had become increasingly frail and his health deteriorated over several weeks.
Mr Te Whata's tangi is being held at the Mataitaua Marae at Utakura where his funeral service will be held at 10am on Thursday. He will be buried at the Meheke cemetery at Utakura.
The sole Northland member of the Maori Battalion A Company "Gumdiggers", Charlie Petera, of Pukenui, said yesterday he couldn't make it to the tangi because he was a "cot case," but his son Wayne was attending in his place.
Mr Petera said he and Mr Te Whata had gone overseas in the same platoon, serving in North Africa and Italy between 1941-45.
"We did a lot of things together, good and bad," he said.
Mr Te Whata was to have accompanied 14 students from the Leadership Academy of A Company in Whangarei to the 70th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Cassino in Italy in May, but his health began fading before the trip.
The Maori Battalion suffered the highest losses of any Allied force at Monte Cassino, with 120 casualties out of the 200 Maori soldiers, 58 of them buried there in the war cemetery among more than 400 New Zealanders.
The academy boys acknowledged every New Zealander buried in the cemetery, and laid poppies on the grave of Mr Te Whata's brother.
Two teams each of about 10 academy boys were at Moerewa yesterday. They dressed the coffin, helped take Mr Te Whata to his marae and will remain with the old soldier until his burial.
Mr Te Whata is survived by his wife Martha, six of his eight children and many grand and great grandchildren.