A brilliant man with a brilliant military career, Brigadier General Ian Thorpe has been described as a "true officer and a gentleman".

The 84-year-old's life has been marked in fitting fashion with a final farewell with full military tradition that not only honoured his incredible life as one of New Zealand's most decorated soldiers, but that of a family man, adored husband of 60 years and community leader who changed the lives of many.

Thorpe was 17 when he started his career that spanned 50 years - serving for two monarchs - New Zealand and Fiji. It earned him 14 honours and decorations, including CBE, OF (Officer of the Order of Fiji), MSD (Meritorious Service Decoration) and MID, (Mentioned in Dispatches).

Brigadier General Ian Thorpe CBE. Photo / File
Brigadier General Ian Thorpe CBE. Photo / File

Soldiers past and present from around New Zealand and Fiji as well as hundreds of friends and family filled the chapel and surrounding areas at the Rotorua Cemetery yesterday.

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Those among the dignitaries included Brigadier Evan Williams from the New Zealand Defence Force, Fijian Speaker of the House and former president Ratu Epeli Nailatikau and the Commander of Republic of Fiji Military Forces Rear Admiral Viliame Naupoto.

The casket is carried during the military funeral for Brigadier General Ian Thorpe. Photo / Andrew Warner
The casket is carried during the military funeral for Brigadier General Ian Thorpe. Photo / Andrew Warner

After Thorpe's casket was carried into the chapel by soldiers, Te Kei Merito welcomed the guests, saying it was Thorpe's wish to have a funeral service that represented not only his military background but also led by the clergy - a job he undertook alongside Reverend

A haka is performed at the funeral for Brigadier General Ian Thorpe. Photo / Andrew Warner
A haka is performed at the funeral for Brigadier General Ian Thorpe. Photo / Andrew Warner

Richard Thorpe said his father rubbed shoulders with world leaders but never boasted he was "hanging out with famous people".

The gun carriage at the funeral for Brigadier General Ian Thorpe. Photo / Andrew Warner
The gun carriage at the funeral for Brigadier General Ian Thorpe. Photo / Andrew Warner

"If they knew him like we did, we know they would have been the ones who would boast."

His children recalled trips to the their holiday home at Tarawera where, in true military style, as they arrived at their destination nearing midnight, he would have assigned each child an unpacking duty, carefully matched to the size of the child and size of the package they would carry.

They would then form a line to ensure the suitcases and bags were carried into the house efficiently - and while the children were none too pleased, he would always remind them they would feel better in the morning.

In good humour the children spoke of their father being a "hopeless navigator".

They said he would often get lost - whether it be on tracks around his Tarawera home, or more seriously, while serving in Malaya when he once became separated from his troops.

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He made his mark in Tarawera after setting up the sailing school, which now has 30 boats and has trained hundreds over the years.

Speaking on behalf of the five-member Fijian contingency, Nailatikau said it was with "great sorrow" the people of Fiji heard of Thorpe's death.

"We received such simple orders. Cancel all prior engagements and proceed to Rotorua immediately. I have done some duties for Fiji under duress and stress. This is not one of them. We are here on behalf of the Prime Minister and President of Fiji, and all of the people of Fiji to offer our sympathies to Pat and his many friends and family."

He told of a time when Thorpe took over the military force in Fiji and his successor gave strict instructions before he died of what the country needed to do.

"Get Ian Thorpe."

Rear Admiral Commander Republic of Fiji Military Forces Viliame Naupoto salutes the burial site of Brigadier Genreal Ian Thorpe. Photo / Andrew Warner
Rear Admiral Commander Republic of Fiji Military Forces Viliame Naupoto salutes the burial site of Brigadier Genreal Ian Thorpe. Photo / Andrew Warner

"He is the person who put the military forces in Fiji in order ... Our relationship with New Zealand had soured because of the coups and we didn't have that valuable experience of sending our officers to New Zealand. Ian Thorpe came to Fiji and filled that gap and filled it admirably.

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"His legacy lives on in Fiji and all its people. We salute to a great soldier who gave great services to everything he was called on.

Moana Maniapoto, who was family friends with Thorpe, attended the funeral and told the Rotorua Daily Post he was an "absolute gentleman".

"He struck me as someone who was able to build relationships ad there was something quite dignified and graceful about him."

Family friend John Masson described him a "great man" and he thanked the Thorpe family for sharing him.

Following his service, his casket was carried out of the chapel and onto the gun carriage where it was taken to his final resting place.

A haka is performed at the funeral for Brigadier General Ian Thorpe. Photo / Andrew Warner
A haka is performed at the funeral for Brigadier General Ian Thorpe. Photo / Andrew Warner

After his casket was lowered, soldiers performed a haka before the Last Post was played. Then there was silence just before three gun shots rang out, known as feu de joie, which is a special honour to fallen soldiers.

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Brigadier General Ian Thorpe - you have answered the final roll call of your service. The Rotorua community, New Zealand and Fiji thanks you.