Sharing stories of war is beneficial both to the nation and to the person who lived through it, says Victoria Cross holder Willie Apiata.

Mr Apiata was guest speaker at the Battle of Gate Pa commemoration dinner held at Tauranga's Trinity Wharf last night.

The dinner was reminiscent of the dinner held exactly 150 years ago as commanders of the colonial forces dined at The Elms the night before the battle, which was commemorated at dawn this morning.

Mr Apiata started his speech by congratulating commemoration speech competition winner Maraea Ranui and art competition winner Tawhai Rickard, both of whom were at the dinner.

 Willie Apiata VC left and Maraea Ranui, 16, Year 12 Tauranga Girls College.
Willie Apiata VC left and Maraea Ranui, 16, Year 12 Tauranga Girls College.

Mr Apiata said he had been swapping stories with Maraea and sharing how nervous he felt with her and then went on to share how he felt telling stories, particularly war stories, was important for both the person who had lived through it and for the memory to be remembered in history.

"What you see, hear, feel you never forget and that is what makes it so difficult to talk about. What happens overseas stays overseas, or on the battlefield, you will never forget what you have seen or felt.

"I feel so lucky to be able to speak to so many people and share my story. I tell my story and that makes it easier for me to sleep at night, to be a husband and to be a father."

Throughout the night, Mr Apiata's medals were passed around from table to table as he said he had gifted his Victoria Cross to the people.

The evening's events started with a karakia and an introduction by MC Chris Wikaira, who showed Mr Apiata's Victoria Cross to the crowd and asked for them to think about the meaning of the medal throughout the night.

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby said there were certain things and certain times that defined a nation or a city. Anzac Day was one of those, he said, but the Battle of Gate Pa also had a massive influence on the future and on subsequent events.

Maraea Ranui, of Tauranga Girls' College, shared her winning speech. Art competition chief judge June Grant shared how the submitted pieces were judged with the winning work by Tawhai Rickard displayed.

The dinner was part of a serious of Battle of Gate Pa commemorations, which climax today 150 years on from when the historic Battle of Gate Pa began.

Click here for your guide to other events being held in the region in Battle of Gate Pa commemorations.