Topics: 28th Māori Battalion, ANZAC

Family reunited with treasured heirloom

By Taroi Black
  • Auckland

A treasured cigar box that kept a Māori Battalion soldier happy has finally been returned to his family after 20 years. It is believed the cigar box which is embellished with Māori carvings belonged to James Matehaere.

However his son Mark Matehaere says, "The cigar box was something we knew nothing about."

James Matehaere was a second lieutenant of the 28th Māori Battalion during their Lybian campaign.

Mark Matehaere says, "My father, unlike a lot of men who went and came back from the war spoke easily about it and so we'd always as kids say, daddy tell us about the war and it wasn't, he didn't glorify it. He told us funny stories and  Māori tend to have a reputation for seeing the lighter side of life  in addition, the tragic side of life and there was a lot of tragedy." 

"When he got wounded for the third time in Casino where a lot of Māori were killed and being wounded through the throat, that's a death blow. The bullet went through but it didn't hit anything vital. He was breathing through another hole in his neck."

Te Kāea first met  John Webster last year when he called out for help to find the rightful owner of the cigar box.

Matehaere recalls, "It was only through the episode that you had I think about his time last year, we became aware of it when people were calling."

Today's event has definitely brought memories to the surface.

"It's an interesting story, its an untold story, you could make up a story about it and build fiction around fact but I'd just love to know where it came from and I'd love to know what hands touched it and created it before we found it today," says Matehaere.

Matehaere heads back to Australia tomorrow, all the more richer after the kindness of Webster who has reconnected him with his past.