Hundreds of mourners converged on Te Kaha's Te Ehutu marae to pay their final respects to the last Te Whānau ā Apanui 28th Māori Battalion, C Company veteran, William Hei Walker. His whānau say his legacy as a humble, hard working backbone of the community lives on.
A guard of honour of returned serviceman was formed to send off one of Te Whānau ā Apanui war heroes.
Known to locals as Pom his deeds showed his greatness. Although fluent in Māori he shied away from the paepae, preferring to care for the people from behind.
A close friend of 50-years, David Demant said, "One of his cousins said he used to say I'm a walker, not a talker. That summed up Pom. He was always in the back."
The late William Hei Walker's great-granddaughter Tomaikitemoana Walker told Te Kāea, "He was a humble man with a generous heart who gave to anyone who walked in through his gate and in his whare. He would give a kai or just a ear or kōrero."
At 15-years-old he enlisted in the army. Walker trained with Company C at Northland's Ohaeawai training camp for three years, before heading overseas, where he served in Italy.
Minister of Māori Development Te Ururoa Flavell says, "I've come to lament this courageous soldier of the 28th Māori Battalion, as I said, who fought in the war. I believe they aren't celebrated by the nation. They who carried the hopes and aspirations of Māoridom of that era."
Demant says, "Most of them wanted to get away from home because they never had what they call the big OE in them days. There was the chance to escape from everything to go and have a look."
Walker and his late wife Rīpeka are survived by their two daughters and many mokopuna.
Tomaikitemoana Walker says, "We will carry him on is just through the teachings he gave us."
Demant says, "He was one of God's gentlemen you know. Never heard him say a bad word about anybody."