Exhibition in honour of Whangaroa soilders opens in Kaeo

By Dean Nathan

This weekend an exhibition in honour of William aka Ben Porter and the many soldiers of the Whangaroa District opened in Kaeo.

William Ben Porter was a major for the A Company of the 28th Māori Battalion.  It's the first time many of the photos have been on public display.  

A photo of Mayor Ben Porter or Pene Poata guards the entrance to the exhibition that pictures many Whangaroa soldiers who left the district to go war.

One of Major Poata's descendants Melissa Peehikuru says, “It's a massive honour to share the exhibition with his whānau up here at home in Kaeo and just to know that he wasn't the only one there.  He was fighting alongside his cousins and that's just the way he liked it. Not to be the lead man but to be there amongst the boys.”

The third intake of students to Whangarei’s Leadership Academy of A Company was named in his honour and it's the first time many of these photos have been on public display.

Chris Atama (Te Whanau Pani, Ngati Uru, Ngati Pakihi, Kaitangata) says, “It’s the first time I've seen these photos. I knew Pene Poata because he lived not far from us at Pupuke. It’s awesome to see the photos and hear the true stories about our chief.”

Major Poata’s son Jim Porter was blown away by the exhibition. He says, "It's an honour actually, for a man that was quite humble in his way of life. He really mentioned that it was his soldiers. These decorations belonged to his soldiers.  He said without them, he wouldn't have earned them.”

Local elders of Whangaroa say that Major Pene Poata was the only one in the north who was awarded the bar to his military cross.

And with that in mind, from today onwards, the stories about Major Poata will carry on to the next generation.

Atama says, “It was great to have met this esteemed elder. I'd heard a lot of stories about him. I didn't know if they were true or not, but I heard he was a leader of men.”

Peehikuru says, “I am just feeling the aroha of the community and the respect that just goes without saying between soldiers and family.”