A family and Te Arawa taonga has been handed over to the new chief of the New Zealand Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tim Keating.

A pohiri was held for a military contingent at Te Papaiouru Marae, Ohinemutu, yesterday to receive the Haane Manahi Sword of Valour, which was presented to the family of Haane Manahi, DCM, by Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of his bravery in the battle of Tarouna, Tunisia, in World War II.

The handing-over ceremony is part of a new tradition in Rotorua in which the chief of the New Zealand Defence Force is given the sword while in office. It had been returned to the family in January when former chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones ended his three-year term.

Lieutenant General Keating started his speech in te reo Maori, greeting the whanau, marae and iwi before addressing the significance of Haane Manahi's service and the handover ceremony. "A lot of people say, and I'm one of them, that Haane Manahi should have got a Victoria Cross." But he said there was significance in the gift by the Queen to Ngati Whakaue and Te Arawa that was profound in its own way and profound in army leadership..

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He said he would wear the sword proudly when he met the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on Thursday. "What I wear means chief of the defence force but my mana doesn't come from there. The mana of leadership comes from your actions. In the military, no one is more important than the other. If you take out a thread, it all falls to pieces. No matter how far down the ranks you are, you are valued," he said.

"What the sword means to me is a constant reminder of the humility I must wear because, as part of my rank, it's not about me, it's about a greater purpose. I am very grateful for the gift accorded to me today."

He ended his speech with the Irish ballad, Danny Boy, which he said reflected his Irish heritage and represented the call for the future generation to step forward.

William Taranaki Manahi, great-grandnephew of Haane Manahi, handed over the sword which the RSA had been holding in safekeeping. "Today means a tremendous lot. It's an honour and respect for not only the family but the tribe, Te Arawa and Ngati Whakaue, and not forgetting the ones in the background who made all this possible. Meeting the [lieutenant] general and getting to hand him such a taonga was a very great honour to be given," he said.

The sword was one of three items given to the Manahi family in 2007 after requests for his Distinguished Conduct Medal to be upgraded to a Victoria Cross were denied. Lance Sergeant Manahi was originally recommended for the higher award after his bravery while fighting in North Africa for the Maori Battalion's B Company.