Bill Pitman's final farewell and burial at Tutukaka yesterday could not have been in greater contrast to his terrible teenage years when he served in North Africa and Italy with the 28 Maori Battalion, after enlisting at 16.
The ceremonies were held against a backdrop of a vast peaceful panorama of hills and sea, with only the sound of the wind in the trees, before a large crowd gathered first at the Ngunguru Marae and then at the nearby Waikanohi cemetery.
Mr Pitman had been one of three surviving members of A company of the 28 Maori Battalion; one, Sol Tewhata of Moerewa was present, but Charlie Petera of Kaitaia was unable to attend. The third member, Selwyn Clark, also of Kaitaia, was enlisted but did not see active service.
"It is very sad," said Mr Tewhata. "He was a very good quality sort of man."
Paratene Te Manu Wellington (Sonny), kaumatua at the marae, said Mr Pitman had been one of five brothers from at Tamaterau family of 18 who had gone to World War II; one had been killed. Mr Wellington said a relative had been one of the recruitment officers when Mr Pitman tried to enlist at 16. "He said, uncle, please, 'I want to go with my boys' and they wrote his age down as 18, so he went."
Mr Pitman survived the horrors of El Alamein and Monte Cassino, barely in his 20s when he returned. He served the battalion all his life, including at regional and national level of the 18 Maori Battalion Association.
Yesterday six of his grandchildren carried his body from the marae, and to the graveside: Raymond Brown, Tui Brown, Rodney Brown, Tom Brown, Ari Pitman, William Pitman, Ari Pitman. Cliff Chatham's trumpet rang out movingly with The Bridge (Il Silenzio), and the Maori Battalion marching song as the casket was placed in the hearse. Mr Tewhata, wearing his medals and a fob-watch, stood throughout the graveside ceremony, with a relative gently reaching inside his jacket to get the poppy he dropped into the grave. Reverends Tuha Panapa and Moses Cherrington conducted the ceremony, with Mr Cherrington reading the traditional reminder "... in the midst of life we are in death"; and Chas Sibun robustly delivered The Ode "they shall not grow old as we who are left grow old ... we will remember them, we will remember them."
Then 14 young men and kara (tutors) Ken Tipene (chief kara) and Gene Tautari from the Leadership Academy of A Company burst into a passionate haka, written after World War II, dedicated to the memory of the battalion, telling of the solidarity the performers feel with those who served those who died, and commitment to the new generation that will rise to replace them.
The past was also represented in the present by Rawson Wright, a great-nephew of Moana Ngarimu, VC, who was killed at El Alamein, whose father Major Ross Wright, also served with the battalion. The Maori Battalion song was sung again and the ceremony for an old soldier ended softly with the wartime song Now Is The Hour.