Final salute for last Māori Battalion officer

By Leah Te Whata

More than two hundred people, including dignitaries and members of parliament, paid their respects to the last officer of the 28th Māori Battalion, who died on Friday.

Lieutenant Alfred (Bunty) Preece fought for god, king and country.

Defence Minister Ron Mark acknowledged his service today.

"He marched through fire, through wounding, through the loss of his comrades.  He marched through the stench of dead soldiers left lying in the open because enemy snipers were watching.  Now he marches through memories."

More than a soldier, Lt. Preece will be remembered as a warm host, a skilled hunter-gatherer and teacher of practical skills and knowledge.

In a tribute to his grandfather, Preece’s oldest grandchild said he didn’t talk much about the war. 

"He taught us how to light fires, cook a feed and gather what we needed to."

A leader in his close-knit Chatham Island community, Preece was referred to as a rangatira (chief) throughout the memorial service, which was held at his family homestead at Manukau Point, Chatham Islands.

Hokotehi Moriori Trust spokesperson Maui Solomon says, "For Moriori imi (tribe), he was our longest living elder and for the Chatham Island community as a whole."

He was honoured with a twenty one gun salute, the last post and a haka demonstrated by the 1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment.

Minister Ron Mark says the legacy of the 28th Māori Battalion will continue despite there being only three living members remaining.

"Their memory, their deeds will live on.  They will never die. This battalion as represented here today carries on their battle honours, those battle honours won by the 28th Māori Battalion. So that becomes their legacy."

Robert Gillies (B Company) Epineha Ratapu (C Company) and Watchman Waaka (D Company) are now the last living soldiers of the iconic Māori Battalion.