It was 1939 and China was suffering the devastation of an invasion by Japan.
Thirty women and children fled the destruction and headed to New Zealand. Twelve of them came from the small village of Hargee in south China.
Seventy-five years later, descendants and relatives of those 12 survivors gathered for a reunion at the Chinese Community Centre in Mangere.
One of the organisers, Helen Wong, says around 100 people turned up, aged from 10 to 97 years old.
The idea for the reunion arose around 2005 when a small group met and decided the time was right to gather everyone together and put the older people in touch with the younger generation, Ms Wong says.
"The younger people didn't know about the hardships the older people experienced."
A panel spoke at the reunion about their memories and experiences of the village. Many photos were on display which appealed to the younger guests, Ms Wong says.
"They thought it was valuable in learning about where their families came from."
The refugees were initially allowed in the country on a two-year permit but were granted permission to stay after the New Zealand Chinese Association and the Presbyterian Church petitioned the government.
Many of the families set up fruit shops or worked for someone who owned one. None of them own fruit shops now, Ms Wong says.
"Parents wanted the best for their children. Those who came have made quite a good life for themselves. They have been very successful."
Percy Kai Fong, whose father came from Hargee, was one of the panellists at the reunion. He was born in Rotorua but has been going back to the village regularly since 1993.
It has developed greatly since he first visited, with modern housing now built all around it.
The reunion was a chance for everyone from Hargee to get together, he says.
"I know quite a few people but there were still a lot I didn't know."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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