Battalion's last march
The last battles of World War II were fought 67 years ago but it is only now that the New Zealand 24th Infantry Battalion is finally beating a retreat.
Members of the group formed the 24 Battalion Association on their return from the war but with only about 100 battalion veterans left they are winding it up.
The group will go out in style with a full military Beat Retreat ceremony at Auckland War Memorial Museum on Saturday and a memorial service on Sunday.
The Army's Auckland and Northland regiment will lead the retreat with the veterans marching behind.
"It will be very impressive," association president Murray Adlington, 89, says.
He is looking forward to the weekend's celebrations which also include a lunch for the veterans, their wives and families.
Museum war memorial liaison officer Vincent Lipanovich says beating retreat is a very old ceremony. It is derived from the way soldiers were recalled at night.
The veterans will march on to the parade ground and be inspected for the last time by the governor-general.
"The key part of it is the lowering of the flag at the end of the day," Mr Lipanovich says.
"You don't see this sort of thing all the time."
The battalion was formed in 1940 and about 3500 men served in North Africa, Greece and Italy as part of it during the following five years.
More than 520 battalion members were killed in action.
The decision to end the association came with some sadness but Mr Adlington says the longevity of the group is a huge achievement.
The association has met once a month since its formation and has branches in Hamilton and Whangarei.
"Our association was formed in 1947. One of our officers who served right through the war came back home and was killed in a road accident.
"At the funeral after-function it was decided to form an association of former members," Mr Adlington says.
Members visited other battalion members in hospital and helped each other settle back into daily life during the early years.
Some turned up to help concrete the driveway of one member who had lost an arm in the war and others volunteered to mow the lawns of a member who lost his legs.
They have since raised money to award scholarships and build a holiday respite centre in Whangaparaoa.
Mr Adlington has been president of the association for 15 years and says it has been a big part of his life.
He didn't know all the battalion members during active service but the men have become close friends in the years since – so close that many of the veterans have been best men at each other's weddings.
"We had a common bond and as the years have gone by we've become an extended family where we share our joys and sorrows as they come about," he says.
Membership was opened up to the children and grandchildren of the veterans in recent years to keep the association running.
"They've been wonderful people but by the same token we can't expect them to continue on indefinitely the same way we have," Mr Adlington says.
With only three veterans left on the committee it was decided to bring the association to an end.
The battalion's photos and records have been donated to Auckland War Memorial Museum.
The Beat Retreat begins at the museum cenotaph at 5pm tomorrow and the memorial service is at 10am on Sunday in the museum's World War II Hall of Memories.
East And Bays Courier