The launch of Kaye Dragicevich and Graeme Wilson's 'They Shall Grow Not Old,' the stories of 115 of the young men who served King and Country in WWI and did not return, evoked very special memories for John Paitai.
He, and others, were there to remember all those who were caught up in the "courageous but tragic events" of the First World War, remembering those who were killed in action or died of disease, the bereaved, the lost, the families whose lives were shattered with news from the front, the wounded, maimed and injured, those who suffered in silence their unspeakable memories of warfare.
"We remember those young men from the Far North who (have been described as) 'no special breed.' Rather they were ordinary men, who did extraordinary things," he said.
"We remember them and their loved ones who waited anxiously at home in Te Hiku. Let us pray that God will heal all memories, speak a word of peace, and bring His healing upon descendants gathered here today."
Many memorials to those who died in the First World War included epitaphs such as 'They liveth for evermore,' 'Lest we forget,' or 'From the utmost ends of the earth,' all of which applied to the soldiers from the far north of New Zealand.
"This book captures and commemorates the stories of soldiers from Te Hiku, who it could be said were the Johnny Enzeds, who literally came from the utmost ends of the earth to the battlefields of Gallipoli and Europe," he added.
And for John, many of the memories were deeply personal.
"Service Number 16/347, Private Mita Paratene - A Company, Māori Pioneer Battalion, 1st Echelon was my paternal grandfather. I wear his medals today," he said.
"He left these shores a 19-year-old. full of youthful exuberance, eager to escape the daily toil of gumdigging, eager to fulfil Sir Apirana Ngata's rallying call to Māori men to step up and, 'to pay the price of citizenship.'
"Having visited Passchendaele with Kaitaia College students the day before the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, I can vividly recall the emotion of the moment when we stood at the entrance to the New Zealand section of Tyne Cot War Memorial Cemetery in Belgium and prayed. My wife Mareea's karanga pierced the silence, and announced our arrival amongst our fallen, the nostalgia of singing the Māori Battalion hymn, 'Aue Ihu,' in honour of our fallen, then the search to find every New Zealander's grave to lay our poppies on.
"Finally our poroporoaki to our soldiers as we left them behind on foreign soil.
"The letter from the soldier's diary at the Western Front, on the cover of this book, brought back the haunting reality of the horror of life at the frontline for my grandfather and his brothers in arms from the Far North," he added.
"Unlike many in this book, my grandfather Mita survived Gallipoli and the Western Front, and before the Pioneer Battalion returned to New Zealand he met and married my English grandmother, Edith Waite. Their first child, Sydney, was born in England, and returned to Ahipara with his parents. On his 21st birthday Mita farewelled Sydney on Roma Marae as he left for the WW2 battlefields of Europe with Te Hoko Whitu a Tu, the Māori Battalion.
"This book honours the sacrifices made by those who paid with their lives, and those whose names are not on war memorials, like my grandfather Mita, but endured unbelievable hardship, both at the front and in dreams that haunted them for the rest of their lives.
"Soldiers' spirits were lifted with whakatauki/proverbs like, 'Kaua e mate wheke, me mate ururoa. Do not die like the octopus. Instead die like the hammerhead shark, which fights to the bitter end.' Or with prayers like 'Aua ki a matou e Ihowa, aua ki a matou, engari me hoatu te kororia ki tou ingoa. Not us Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory.'
"They were also content on the knowledge that back home here in Te Hiku, elders were paying visits to Te Rerenga Wairua(Cape Rēinga) to say prayers to assist the souls of the many soldiers who had died in the last and most difficult stage of their passage to the other world. Elders described this vigil at Te Rerenga Wairua as 'keeping the gates open.'
"I pay tribute to the Kaitaia War Memorial Restoration Group for commissioning Kaye Dragicevich and Graeme Wilson to produce this wonderful resource for the families of Te Hiku. This truly is a taonga tuku iho ki nga whakatupuranga
mo apopo / treasure from our ancestors to generations to come.
"I acknowledge this committee for restoring the famous angel of the Kaitaia war memorial, and members of this committee who were instrumental in presenting the magnificent Vietnam veterans' memorial that hangs in the foyer of Kaitaia College and the memorial flagpole outside."