One of the last veterans of 28 Maori Battalion, Nolan Raihania of Nuhaka, and an old boy of Te Aute College, has been mourned by hundreds at Pakirikiri Marae in Tokomaru Bay after passing away last Saturday.

He died just a few weeks short of what would have been his 90th birthday.

Mr Raihania was born on November 16, 1926 in Muriwai and was raised by his grandmother.

After his first years of schooling at Te Muriwai Native School he headed off to Te Aute College in 1940, and it was while there he heard stories about the war and decided he wanted to enlist.


He brought that up in June last year when he travelled from Nuhaka down to Flaxmere for the dedication of Hawke's Bay's first ki o rahi sporting venue in Flaxmere Park.

He told the gathering about his time at Te Aute College and how a former staff member, who had been invalided out of the war, returned "all bandaged up" and told the students about the events overseas.

Mr Raihania joined the Home Guard in 1943 and then enlisted, at the age of 17, and after training at Linton Camp was sent off to serve with the 28 Maori Battalion in Italy.

He arrived back in New Zealand in 1946 - a veteran of war at the age of 20 - and worked for a time as a carpenter before embarking on work in the shearing sheds of Mataura.

He married Ana Hine and they went on to raise nine children.

He was a keen musician and formed a Maori quartet called The Four Notes who built a strong reputation - and could sing Italian songs he had learned using his memorable tenor voice.

Mr Raihania was also devoted to his community and worked on raising funds for Maori educational programmes, and from 1968 to 1978 served as a council member for the Mataura Borough Council and then became a Justice of the Peace.

In 1984 he established the Mataura Marae and as he was in his 60s he and his wife moved back to Tokomaru Bay to retire, although that was not the case.

Again he devoted himself to community projects and sport.

He was made national president of the 28 Maori Battalion in 2008 and continued to carry that title until his passing, despite the dwindling number of members who marked its official ending in 2012.

In 2011 he was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, and two years ago he met with Prince Harry and his holiness Pope Francis while attending Battle of Cassino commemorations in Italy.

He later moved to Nuhaka.

Across the East Coast he was known as a man devoted to his family and the communities he lived in.

A mighty totara has fallen.