As the sun rises over the scene of one of the Western Bay of Plenty's bloodiest battlefields, descendants of those who fought in the Battle of Gate Pa will honour their legacy.

A dawn service will be held at Gate Pa, also known as Pukehinhina, at 6.30am tomorrow to commemorate the battle 154 years on. This will be followed by an official service at St George's Anglican Church at 4pm.

On April 29, 1864, British forces gathered in Tauranga became embroiled in battle with local Maori in what is now known as the Battle of Gate Pa. At 4pm, after constant bombardment of Maori pa sites, British forces believed they had taken control of the fight and began to move in.

However, the soldiers were slaughtered by Maori lying in wait. A total of 60 people, 39 British and 21 Maori, were believed to have been killed that day. Another 75 British were wounded.

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Many more Maori would die at the Battle of Te Ranga two months later.

Historian and commemorations organiser Buddy Mikaere said April 29 was significant to the Western Bay of Plenty for several reasons.

"On Sunday we will be remembering that battle but, more importantly, it's remembering it's that battle that's the birth of the city as we know it. After that battle, we had another battle at Te Ranga (Pyes Pa) and, after that, the Maori who fought at Te Ranga and Pukehinahina had their land confiscated.

"It's on that confiscated land that Tauranga is now built. So we commemorate it because of that and what it meant to Maori people. It was the start of a real hard time for them."

Mikaere said Maori acts of kindness during those battles also deserved recognition.

"Of all the battles in New Zealand, Pukehinahina is up there because of the acts of chivalry and the way the Maori side behaved. People remember the humanity ... Maori crept around at night to give wounded soldiers water."

An ancient Maori "code of conduct" used in such battles - forbidding the killing of women and children was one example - is believed to be a forerunner to the Geneva Convention.

At 4pm tomorrow, 60 bells will ring out at the church to honour the lives of the 60 people killed that day.

Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Garry Webber said he hoped people unaware of the history of the battle would come to realise its importance and prevalence in today's society.

"We really need to understand what happened because it's a significant component of who and what we are today," Webber said.

"I think there is a significant cohort in our part of the world in the Western Bay that is not really aware of the true history of the district and that's a sad indictment on us as a district.

"In the context of the Maori wards, if we understood the history, maybe we would have a bit more compassion."

Battle of Gate Pa commemorations

Where: St George's Anglican Church and Gate Pa Park
When: 4pm and 6.30am
Who: Both events are open to anyone wanting to take part