Last Post for Battalion

By Laurel Stowell


A bus full of Wanganui people leaves for Wellington tomorrow for the last hurrah of the 28 Maori Battalion.

Wanganui's battalion support group is the 28 Maori Battalion D Company Whanganui Branch. It's a member of the national 28 Maori Battalion Association, and both wind up at the weekend.

Wanganui's last three battalion veterans - Murray Hawira, Jim Takarangi and Bill Osborne - have all died in the past few years. For Mr Takarangi that was not long before the battalion reunion he helped organise in 2009.

The Whanganui branch was centred on Putiki, because many of the veterans came from there. It's staunch, and does not want to give up the battalion's mana (prestige), active member Ike Hunter said. "We don't want that philosophy, the mana that the 28 has left to us, we don't want that to be taken away."

Mr Hunter said the branch planned to re-invent itself next year, as a new entity. It was looking toward a model being developed by the Wellington branch.

Those on the bus tomorrow will be the widows and close family members of men who fought in the battalion in World War II. Mr Hunter is there because one of those men was his uncle, Charlie Taite.

Many of those in the Whanganui branch have military connections, including Mr Hunter. He spent 25 years with the army, was involved in special operations in Borneo with the Special Air Service (SAS) and fought in the Vietnam War.

The commemorations that he and others will attend in Wellington comprise a church service at the National War Memorial, followed by a powhiri at Pipitea Marae and a luncheon with speeches and toasts. Dignitaries will include the Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae, the Chief of Defence Force Staff Lieutenant General Richard Rhys Jones and the Minister of Maori Affairs, Dr Pita Sharples.

The battalion's national association once decided not to wind up until the last veteran died, but it has had a change of heart. There are now just 25 survivors, and none of them want to be the last man left alive.

"While their numbers were still there, a decision was made to formally close the battalion," Mr Hunter said.

It was formed in 1940 because Maori men wanted to prove their citizenship by fighting alongside fellow New Zealanders in the World War II. They have a proud fighting history.

"They saw the most fighting, they suffered the most casualties and they were the most highly decorated soldiers."

The 28 Maori Battalion came together for the first time in Palmerston North in January 1940. It was disbanded in 1946.

A total of 3600 men served in it. Of those, 649 were killed during the war and 1712 were wounded.

Among the soldiers from Putiki to die were Matiu Patapu Bailey and Hakara Korako Takarangi, who lost their lives in Crete.

To hear recordings made by wounded Maori troops in North Africa 70 years ago visit www.28maoribattalion.org.nz

- Wanganui Chronicle

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