They died more than a century ago, but the stories of many of the WWI soldiers from Kaitaia and the Mangonui County who died serving King and country have now been told .
'They Shall Not Grow Old,' meticulously researched and beautifully written and liberally illustrated by Kaye Dragicevich and Graeme Wilson, records the stories of 115 of those soldiers, many of whom have been commemorated, since 1916, at Kaitaia's cenotaph.
The book, which will be launched at Te Ahu at 2pm on Thursday, represents an enormous task in the collating and checking of these young men's lives, their service and backgrounds, beginning with a section that portrays in some detail the far-flung corner of the Empire they left behind when they sailed to war at Gallipoli and in Europe. and the final stages were not a lot easier, thanks in large part to Covid-restrictions, which delayed delivery from the printer in South Korea by two months or more.
Originally to have been launched on December 3, the bulk of the books finally arrived at Dragicevich's Kaingaroa home last week from Auckland, aboard a horse float, which perhaps lent a very Far North flavour to the enterprise.
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Speakers at Thursday's launch will include John Paitai, Kaitaia's War Memorial Restoration Project convenor Ray Beatson, Dragicevich and Northland Age editor Peter Jackson. The function will include a blessing by Rev Michael Withiel.
Beatson said the publication of the book had been a massive undertaking, beginning "fairly amateurishly" with plans for 250 pages, which eventually became more than 600.
The restoration of the war memorial had involved thousands of kilometres of travel and many hundreds of hours' work on his part alone, he said, culminating in the book, an achievement that gave him immense satisfaction. And, after Thursday's launch, it would be "mission accomplished."
The soldiers' stories, he added, had had to be told, although the original goal had simply been to restore the war memorial, whose angel had been damaged many years before, and its surrounds, which had become somewhat shabby. It had begun at a function at the fire station, following the dedication of a roll of honour remembering former students who died in the Vietnam War at Kaitaia College, where he had commented on the sorry state of the memorial.
He recalled saying that "someone should get off their ... and do something," and lo and behold, he got the job.
Beatson, fellow former servicemen Ritchie Taaffe and David Russell, duly launched the restoration project, with the active support and involvement of the late Phil Cross and master carver Paul Marshal. The result of their labours was now clear for all to see, with 'They Shall Not Grow Old' providing a very fitting end to the story.
Copies of the book will be available for purchase for ($70) on Thursday, while some have been set aside as prizes at Kaitaia College in years to come.