One the last soldiers of the 28th Māori Battalion, and the last remaining member of C Company, Epineha Ratapu of Ngāti Porou, has passed away at 98 years of age.
Speaking to Te Ao Māori News on behalf of the whānau, Wiremu Bartlett said it was a surreal feeling to know that after 98 years, his father was gone in a second.
Historian Monty Soutar told Te Ao, "It's very sad not only for the whānau but also for all of us the descendants of the soldiers of the 28th Māori Battalion. He was the last of the kaupoi (cowboys) of C Company".
Ratapu served in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. He was injured at Point 209, the infamous location where Moana Nui a Kiwa Ngarimu VC lost his life.
After recovering from what he described to historian Monty Soutar as shellshock, Ratapu returned to the battalion in Italy.
Joined the J Force
Following the end of World War II in Europe, Ratapu returned to Aotearoa. Not long after, he joined J Force and served in Japan until 1948.
Lieutenant General Sir Bernard Freyburg is famously quoted as saying that, "No infantry had a more distinguished record, or saw more fighting, or, alas, had such heavy casualties, as the Māori Battalion."
Monty Soutar said the soldiers of the 28th Māori Battalion) were warriors. "They leave a legacy."
Ratapu and his wife raised four daughters and three sons.
The tūpāpaku of Epineha Ratapu will be mourned at Rangimarie Marae in Whakaoriori tomorrow, before being taken back to Tokomaru on Sunday.
Bartlett told Te Ao that, "In some ways it's a relief. Even though the whānau are sad, we're happy that he has moved on".
E rere kau ana te aroha ki te whānau o tō tātou mōrehu koroua.