A book aiming to retain the history of the 28 Māori Battalion has been launched in the presence of its last surviving member.

Bon Gillies, who fought for Te Arawa B company, was in the audience along with 200 others who lined the walls of Te Papaiouru Marae on Saturday to welcome Sir Wira Gardiner's book Ake Ake Kia Kaha E! Forever Brave.

The 28th Māori Battalion was a frontline infantry unit that was part of the second New Zealand Division that fought in World War ll.

It was completely voluntary and at one time more than 700 men were in the Battalion which was spread across four rifle companies, A, B, C and D and a headquarters company.

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Author Sir Wira Gardiner's group which sung the supporting waiata after his korero. Photo / Leah Tebbutt
Author Sir Wira Gardiner's group which sung the supporting waiata after his korero. Photo / Leah Tebbutt

The four rifle companies were organised along tribal lines where the B company drew its members mainly from Te Arawa and Mataatua confederations of tribes. The book looks at the war from this perspective.

"This is probably the biggest but the easiest book I have ever had to write. I never had writer's block or moments of doubt and my pen just kept flowing, well metaphorically," Gardiner said.

"This book is not a book that comes merely from the author but from the combined efforts of those involved."

Funding for the publication came from the 28th Māori Battalion B Company History Trust, which was established in 2013 to maintain and preserve the integrity, honour and mana of the company.

Many old servicemen welcomed the book at Te Papaiouru Marae, including Bon Gillies (second from left). Photo / Leah Tebbutt
Many old servicemen welcomed the book at Te Papaiouru Marae, including Bon Gillies (second from left). Photo / Leah Tebbutt

The charitable organisation was specifically created to fund and manage the research and publication of B company stories, resulting in this book.

As well as telling stories of the campaigns the battalion was involved in, the book begins with the time between the wars and the circumstances that produced the men, while including the impact of the war on whānau.

"Because the Rotorua Post is not on Papers Past, so the team from the museum got together and physically researched every copy of the Rotorua Post from September of 1939 to January of 1946," Gardiner said.

"It was 2500 copies and they asked what I want, and I said give me anything that has 28 in it."

Chairman of the Trust former Lieutenant Colonel Graeme Vercoe said the brief was to create a story of 80,000 to 100,000 words. He believed Gardiner accomplished that with amazing energy, dedicated determination and an aroha which was breathtaking.

"He was given a timeline of two years for his work and he produced a publication for our whānau which we can all be proud of."

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick was also in attendance and said it was definitely the biggest book launch she had ever attended in her life.

"Through this experience, I became intensely aware of how difficult it is to produce a quality of work such as this.

"When so much time has passed ... we had seven veterans involved at the start of the project and now only Bon. It shows how close the project team came to missing out on what I'm sure are vital reflections."