Service recognition medals awarded to whānau after 75 years

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Descendants of the Company C soldiers, of the renowned 28th Maori Battalion, have been presented with the service recognition medals by the NZ Defence Force at C Company Memorial House, in Turanga Nui a Kiwa.

Behind the event was David Stone, who said it didn’t come without its own unique challenges.

“I was really glad for every family and every recipient. They've been waiting 75 years and, as I've said before, it's never too late to do the right thing and, notwithstanding the passage of time today, the New Zealand Army did the right thing. And I was really happy, you saw it yourself, how much it meant for every recipient on there. You saw the wairua, we all saw the roimata, and it was a beautiful day.”

More than 70 C Company soldiers didn't receive their service medals that acknowledged their service in World War II for a variety of reasons.

“The challenging part without doubt was the paperwork and the research, and finding out who never got their medal.

Tracking them down

"That took a long time, finding out who was actually part of C Company. It's almost unbelievable there's nowhere you can go to definitively find out which soldier is from what company, and you go up to A Company House for example. They've got the names of all the soldiers in there, and that's wrong because there are soldiers there who weren't A Company, they were C Company but their wives were up there. They moved up there, they lived up there for decades and they became subsumed and that's why their names are up there, so you go there and you think that soldier is from A Company. They're not, they're from here, and likewise in other places," Stone says.

On Saturday, the medals owed to 66 soldiers were finally presented to whānau, who have various accounts of their ancestors using fake names to enlist.

“I've heard some hilarious stories. One person came in and he was under age, and he took the name of his mate's uncle because he knew that he was the right age so he enlisted and all of that, and hello, a few days later that uncle enlisted and they said, 'huh? You're already enrolled!', but we came across so many people who changed their names, and we just had to overcome that. If it meant going to the urupā and taking photos of the headstone, or taking a photo in the memorial house, we just had to do what we had to do.”

Less paperwork

David Stone has been approached by whānau from other companies of the 28th Maori Battalion seeking help in retrieving their own unreceived medals. Stone says the process for whānau Māori to receive outstanding service medals needs to be more accommodating for Māori.

“I ask that instead of having to tick all those boxes and get all those birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, get a kaumatua and kuia who knows the people, to come in here, sit down and say my name is so and so, that kaumatua and kuia know who they are, who their dad was, who their grandfather was, all our people are capable of doing that.

"We should have a kaumatua screening process to make it more Maori friendly. Our kuia don't have the internet or a computer to go online and apply to have their birth certificate. They don't have a credit card to do all that, and I don't think our people should. These people should be taken at face value when they say I am who I am, and my dad was who he was, and our people know who we are.”

The special ceremony was well attended by East Coast iwi, politicians, the last surviving member of the 28 Māori Battalion Bom Gillies and Te Hokowhitu a Tū, who sang the popular Māori wartime songs of the East Coast.

“Every person who turned up today did so because there was a person they turned up to honour, and there were those who weren't receiving medals, but every single person that came today they whakapapa to a Maori Battalion soldier, every Maori person does, and people came today whether they were recipients of a medal, whether it was their dad, or their grandfather or their uncle, or their husband.

"There were people who weren't receiving medals but came nonetheless because they had an uncle, so everyone came to show tautoko and support for what those soldiers did.”