"It was pretty emotional when you see how many lives were taken - there were rows and rows and rows of graves."

The image remains in 17-year-old Marangai Parkinson's head since visiting the grave sites of soldiers who had fallen in the Māori Battalion - some held his ancestors.

But it didn't stop the Tauranga Boys' College student from putting his hand up for a second school trip to retrace the Māori Battalion.

Parkinson is one of 34 Tauranga Boys' College students who will remember fallen family members as they follow the footsteps of some of their ancestors.


The boys leave Tauranga on June 29 and will start the tour in Belgium's city of Brussels.

Teacher Pere Durie said 34 students will be going on the trip, which will honour the 649 men killed in action, 1712 wounded and 237 prisoners of war.

"It is a real connection to their identity in terms of being Māori but also in terms of sacrifice that their families have made," he said.

"A lot of these boys have generations of soldiers in the family."

Durie hoped to plan a trip every three years and said it will not be a holiday for the boys, but instead build leadership skills and "put them out of their comfort zone".

"Last time we were there, there were about in Cassino five boys who all had whakapapa to three different ancestors who were in side-by-side graves," Durie said.

"You remember the young men who have gone to war, as nasty as war is, there is also that sense of adventure about it."

In Belgium, the boys will follow the Māori Pioneer Battalion, visiting Passchendaele and the Arras Tunnels which New Zealand soldiers dug under the French town during the First World War.

There, 16-year-old Caleb Lepou will remember his ancestor Captain Harding Waipuke Leaf who was a Lieutenant in the Pioneer Battalion WWI and was awarded the Military Cross.

"He was one of the high servers of the war. He was a Lieutenant," Lepou said. "He was a great leader to the Māori."

In 1941, Harding was killed in action in Crete where the boys will stop to remember Lepou's relative.

Lepou said it was a good opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his ancestor. "It is pretty cool."

In France, the boys will visit the cemeteries of soldiers killed during the Battle of Somme - one of the bloodiest military battles in history during the First World War.

The boys will then take an overnight train to Italy where Maranga Parkinson's great-grandfather William Potaka-Osborne fought during World War II.

"He was one of the last Māori Battalion members to live," Parkinson said.

Next, the boys will travel to Greece to follow the Greek tragedy in late March 1941 when the Māori Battalion was sent to defend northern Greece against a possible German invasion through Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.

The students will also visit Athens and follow the Battle of Crete before ending in Suda Bay where the teenagers will visit Tauranga Boys' College Old Boy Patu Andy Williams's grave.

Nikora Cooper's great grand-uncle William Cooper was also buried at the Suda Bay War Cemetery.

"I am pretty excited to get a feel of what it is like over there, how he fought and lived over there," the 17-year-old said.

To follow the boys' trip, visit Tauranga Boys' College Maori Battalion Tour 2018 on Facebook.

The Maori Battalion:
- The 28th (Māori) Battalion was part of the 2nd New Zealand Division, the fighting arm of the second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF) during the Second World War (1939-45).
- A frontline infantry unit made up entirely of volunteers, the Battalion usually contained 700-750 men, divided into five companies.
- The Māori Battalion was divided into five companies: four rifle companies of about 125 men each and a headquarters (HQ) company of around 200 men.
- The Battalion's four rifle companies (named A, B, C and D) were organised along tribal lines, while HQ Company drew its personnel from all over Māoridom.
- Of almost 3600 men who served overseas with the Māori Battalion between 1940 and 1945, 649 were killed in action or died on active service.
- 1712 men were wounded and 237 were prisoners of war.

Source: 28maoribattalion.org.nz