Last Tuhoe warrior dies

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 14:52 14/11/2012

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Koro Kepa, the last Ngai Tuhoe warrior to serve with the celebrated 28th Maori Battalion, has died.

With his passing, there are now only 25 surviving veterans of the 3600 who served with the Battalion during World War Two.

Kepa was a stretcher bearer during the Italian campaign."Major Tupuna told me I was a stretcher bearer so I rushed in when someone fell and put the bandages on," Kepa said years later in a write up on the 28th Maori Battalion website.

"It was hard because I knew these boys. Every night my mates and I would say prayers in Maori before we went to sleep."

His death comes just a week after the 28th Maori Battalion (NZ) Association decided to wind-up saying in a statement that none of them "wants to be the last man standing".

Kepa believed he was born in 1919 but like many Maori of that era he had no birth certificate.

He was born in Ruatoiki of Tuhoe descent, a "child of the mist" as the tribe is known.

The youngest of seven, he was raised by his grandmother.

When he grew up he married Elsie Pirihita Ngaheu.  Their first daughter Sophie Kahoki Tehoney was born before he enlisted in the Maori Battalion and he had another one on the way before he left for overseas, Te-Oti Barbara.

The Maori battalion website said it was possible Kepa was younger than the declared 18-years-old when he signed up as a volunteer to fight.

He was put into B Company, the so-called "Penny Divers" which was made up of tribes from the Te Arawa and Mataatua canoes. As well as Tuhoe, there were men from Te Arawa, Ngati Tuwharetoa and Ngati Awa.

The website says he embarked in 1940 for training in England and he would not see Aotearoa again until 1946.

After the war he worked in a dairy factory in Edgecumbe, near his wife's grandmother's place at Kokohinau marae.

Every year they held the Anzac memorial at the marae and it was where he kept in touch with all his mates from 28 Maori Battalion both in Te Teko and Ruatoki.

Kepa lost his wife in 1977 but remained on his own and was alert and spoke with a distinct Tuhoe accent.

He left 18 mokopuna (grand children), 57 moko tuarua (great grand children) and 18 moko tuatoru (great-great grand children).

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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