Francis Toko had always planned to attend today's Anzac Day service at Auckland War Memorial Museum.

So when the 77-year-old died poignantly on the eve of the dawn parade, his family was still determined he would make it to his last-ever Anzac service.

His oldest son, Manu Toko, said he had already arranged with his father to take him in his wheelchair to today's parade.

So when the Vietnam war veteran died on Monday morning, Manu Toko spoke to the funeral director, who was also a friend, about whether he could borrow a hearse to take his dad in his casket after he was embalmed.


Haven Falls Funeral Home obliged and when the hearse arrived this morning hoping to follow the parade, one of the organisers instead suggested his family carry the casket to a concrete bench in front of the Weeping Wall in Auckland Domain.

Manu Toko said it was a good solution as otherwise the hearse would have blocked the march from leaving.

Francis Toko had strong connections with the army and was an officer in the Royal Regiment of the New Zealand Artillery in the 161 Battery stationed at Buckingham Palace before fighting in the Vietnam War in 1965.

After being discharged from service with a shattered ear drum, he took up a position at Mt Eden Prison where he worked as a senior prison officer for 38 years; spending the last 20 years covering night shift. He retired in 2006 at the age of 65 and had a stroke four months later.

The stroke left him paralysed down his right side and for the past 11 years he has been cared for in his Henderson home by his wife and daughters.

Before his stroke Francis Toko attended every dawn parade before heading to the RSA, his son said.

"As soon as the dawn parade finished he would go upstairs for a catch-up with everybody. Sometimes he would head straight for the RSA in Parnell and from there he would do an RSA crawl, catching up with different members and different ex-members of the military that he knew," his son said.

Manu Toko recalled that his father would visit about 10 RSAs and travelled as far as Papakura before returning to his own RSA in Pt Chevalier.

Manu Toko sits with his father's medals. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Manu Toko sits with his father's medals. Photo / Brett Phibbs

"After the stroke when he got settled and was in a routine, I started asking him, 'Do you want to go to the dawn parade' and in most cases it was yes. So we would load him in his wheelchair, put him in his van and take him to the dawn parade in his wheelchair."

He missed the last two because it was cold and wet, but Manu Toko had planned to take his father this year.

After today's parade, the family carried on his RSA-hopping tradition by taking him to the Henderson RSA to have a coffee and rum in the car park before taking him home.

Manu Toko said the timing of his dad's death was significant not only because of his links with Anzac Day, but because Manu Toko's grandson was born on Monday morning just hours before his father died.

"We always understand when life ends another begins."

His funeral will be held at the Pt Chevalier RSA on Wednesday and he will be buried in Kaihu in Northland on Friday.

Haven Falls funeral director Allen Pukepuke, who trained with Manu Toko, said he was happy to support a family's wishes.

"We will do anything for any family as long as it is in good taste and it's not going to be offensive. I can't see why nothing is impossible for closure for any family and today's one was no exception."

Manu Toko sits with his father's casket at Dawn Service on Auckland Domain. Photo/Gerrie Toko-Mikahere
Manu Toko sits with his father's casket at Dawn Service on Auckland Domain. Photo/Gerrie Toko-Mikahere

Pukepuke said he spoke to Manu Toko about it and thought there was no reason why he couldn't take Francis Toko to the dawn parade.

"Of course, he isn't going to be upright, but I said, 'Just take dad'. What are they going to do? Kick him out?"

Pukepuke said he was pleased the gesture had been taken by the organisers in the right spirit.