Pataka (Pat) Manawamate Winiata, also known as Uncle Hutchie to his Horowhenua whānau, lied about his birth date to sign up to fight in July 1941.
At the time, the minimum age to join the war was 19, and Pat, born in Ōhau in October 1924, was three months shy of 17 when he enlisted in the 28th Māori Battalion in Palmerston North.
The battalion had been formed following pressure on the government of the day by Māori MPs and organisations throughout the country wanting a full Māori unit to be created for service overseas.
Private Pat Winiata entered the Waiouru training camp in February 1942, then, as part of the Ninth Māori Reinforcements (D company), set sail from Wellington on board the Dominion Monarch on May 14, 1943.
D Company disembarked at Port Tewfik, Egypt, on June 11, 1943, heading to Italy, where at Cassino the 28th Māori Battalion took part in some of its fiercest fighting of the war, with 300 of its men being killed there.
The battalion was pulled out of the front line on December 21, 1944 - a 270-strong contingent sent to Japan as part of the occupation force, and the rest of the 28th Māori Battalion, including Private Winiata, returning to Wellington on January 23, 1946.
At least 17,000 Māori took part in World War II, with 3500 joining the 28th Māori Battalion. 655 men died and 1949 were wounded or taken prisoner.
Pat was discharged from the army in July 1946, having been awarded four medals of service - Italy Star, 1939-45 Star, War Medal 1939-45, NZ War Service Medal. He settled back in the Horowhenua, married Ada McLeavey and raised his family.
Oldest daughter Sharon MacDonald said her dad didn't really talk about what happened to him or his friends during the war, "but he never missed the opportunity to honour those he fought with on Anzac Day."
Pat was also heavily involved with two local marae - Ngatokowaru at Hokio Beach and Te Iwi o Ngāti Tukorehe in Kuku – with his name appearing on the Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū roll of honour board at the Kuku marae.
Fast forward to April 2022 - the Paeroa Hotel in the Waikato where Tanya Bradford works as bar manager, and Joe Martin from Waihi is a regular patron.
"We have shared many stories over the years ... about hunting, fishing and other beverage-related lies and exaggerations," said Tanya.
Through this relationship, Joe learned about Tanya's military background and thought she'd be interested in a World War II artefact he had in his possession.
As a child, Joe had developed a fascination with the military, and in his early teens bought two old army canvas bags from a hardware store in Paeroa for 5 shillings.
"I thought they'd be perfect for possum hunting," said Joe, "but had a sense that one of the bags was actually a bit special so I put it away in a drawer."
Written on the inside of the bag was 802311; P. WINIATA; D/Support Coy; MAORI BTTN, but Joe had no idea how to find out any more information about this treasure.
When he brought the bag into the hotel to show Tanya, she knew it would just be a simple matter of tracking the service number through the 28th Māori Battalion roll to work out where the soldier came from.
"I checked with a couple of matuas as to what the name Pat or Patrick would be in te reo, took a photo [of the bag], posted it on the Ōhau Community Facebook page and let the power of social media do the rest," said Tanya.
She was specifically looking for the name Pataka when searching the comments and with more than 200 comments on the Ōhau page, and the Levin pages where the post was shared, it took a mere four hours to connect with the right whānau.
Pat's daughter Sharon just happened to be back home from Australia, with the opening of New Zealand's borders, when family tagged her in the Facebook post.
Sharon made contact with Joe and arranged for him to deliver the bag to her in Mount Maunganui on Friday, May 6.
"It was very emotional receiving the bag," said Sharon, "holding something that belonged to Dad, from a part of his life he didn't share much about."
Pat's oldest grandson, John, plans to keep hold of this special taonga in memory of his granddad, who died on Anzac Day in 1991, although in time it may return to Pat's home marae of Ngāti Tukorehe.
In total there were 19 men from Ngāti Tukorehe marae who served in the 28th Māori Battalion, as part of B, C and D companies. Two of these men were killed in action in Italy, one at Cassino on May 31, 1944, and the other at Faenza on April 10, 1945.
Two men who had joined the regular New Zealand army were also killed in action, one in Libya and the other in Greece.
For such a small rural area, the men of Kuku made a huge contribution to the World War II effort.