This will be the 18th year the Karaitiana family lays a wreath at the Cenotaph on Anzac Day in memory of soldiers of D Company of the 28 Māori Battalion.

And although the family held special memories of Ruru Karaitiana, better known as Daddy, they would remember all those servicemen and women who served our country in conflict, Ruru's distant cousin, Neil Karaitiana, said.

"This is the first time in 18 years that I'll help lay the wreath and it will be a special moment," he said.

"A member of my mother's family served in the air force in World War II and they are never forgotten."


Roger Rautahi is also a cousin of the late Ruru.

"My father travelled on the troop ship Aquitania to the battlefields with Ruru," he said.

And while Roger has previously laid a wreath on Anzac Day, for Arapera Te Amo (Karaitiana) this will be the first time.

"We have to remember all those who served," she said.

For Neil, the Anzac Day service is an emotional time.

Dannevirke's Ruru Karaitiana, a member of D Company of the 28 Māori Battalion, in his army uniform, in the late 1940s.
Dannevirke's Ruru Karaitiana, a member of D Company of the 28 Māori Battalion, in his army uniform, in the late 1940s.

"It's about remembering and making sure those sacrifices aren't forgotten," he said.

Ruru Karaitiana was born in Dannevirke, educated at St Joseph's School, and is well-known for writing New Zealand's first hit song, Blue Smoke, which was penned in May 1940 on board the Aquitania, the troop ship taking the Māori Battalion to the war in Europe.

A private, Ruru was a member of D Company and had been a dance band leader and multi-instrumentalist in Dannevirke.

He recalled that one day off the coast of Africa, "halfway across the Indian Ocean", he was sunbathing on deck when a sergeant stopped beside him and said, "Look at that blue smoke", as he pointed up to the smoke drifting from the funnels.

"It's going the right way – back to New Zealand – and we're steaming farther from home."

Private Karaitiana was wounded in the Middle East, but there are reports that he led a 17-piece concert orchestra of the Māori Battalion, many of whom later died on Crete.

Blue Smoke became a regular item at singalongs by members of the battalion.

In 1943, he returned to New Zealand with a "non-medical discharge" from the army, "unfit for service".

Three years later, he began organising dances and leading his own band in a hall in Dannevirke.

In the interim, he had been working as an itinerant musician and shearer, between Napier and New Plymouth and as far south as Wellington.

Wherever he went, he played Blue Smoke and explained how it came to be written on the Aquitania.

Blue Smoke was the first pop song written by a New Zealander to be recorded and manufactured in this country.

It was a massive hit, with local sales topping 50,000 after it was released in 1949, with the great Dean Martin and others recording cover versions.

Ruru now rests in the Tahoraiti Urupa on the outskirts of Dannevirke. He is survived by his wife Joan, and son, Ruma.

"We are very grateful to Ngati Kahungunu Ki Tamaki nui a rua Taiwhenua for their ongoing support and to Mary Ritchie for the beautiful flower arrangement every Anzac Day," Roger said.