It's taken 62 years but one of Northland's finest SAS troopers, Adrian Raymond Thomas (Te Uri o Hau, Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa), has returned home.
"Tino aroha. It’s something that at the time of his death, it wasn’t going to happen. It couldn’t happen for those times," says niece Astrid Thomas-McLeod.
Multitudes packed the Ruawai College main hall this afternoon for a solemn but proud occasion for the small Northland settlement.
Those gathered welcomed one of the most famed soldiers of Te Uri o Hau, and Ngāti Whātua, NZSAS Trooper Adrian Raymond Thomas after 62 years.
"Everyone of us still talk about him like- we still spoke about him like he was with us and he’s always been like that.
Another New Zealand Special Air Services veteran named his daughter Adrienne in honour of his fallen friend.
"There were only about 17 or 18 of us in a troupe, we used to go in the jungle for 13 weeks at a time. So you really became close with one another," says former NZSAS soldier, Norm Whitehead, who fought alongside Thomas in the Malayan Emergency.
Thomas’ remains will lie at Parirau Marae in Matakohe tonight and tomorrow he will be moved to Te Pātūnga Marae, in the region of Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa.
"He was also a boxer, an athlete. They named a cup after him. He was known as Charlie and [there are] just some lovely stories that have come out of it all," says Thomas' niece, Astrid, who bought a photo of her own father to witness the return of her uncle to Northland.
Thomas was the first New Zealand casualty in the Malayan Emergency. His feats, however, took centre-stage in front of his own people.
"There are so many memories and it’s really good to think about it," says another former NZSAS comrade, and former student of Ruawai College, Don Heatley.
Thomas' remains will be interred at Te Pātūnga Marae Urupā in Kaeo on Saturday.