Student to commemorate Great War in France

22:04, Jul 09 2014
huia brown
BONJOUR: Huia Brown, 17, will be heading to France tomorrow on a trip to commemorate 100 years since the start of World War I.

Huia Brown's distant relative will be on her mind when she heads to France to commemorate 100 years since the start of World War I.

The Stratford High School student leaves tomorrow with 10 other young ambassadors selected to represent New Zealand at the ceremonies to mark a century since the start of the Great War on July 28, 1914.

The two-week-long trip is part of a joint project between the Ministry of Education and its French counterpart, aimed at educating people about the war and its effects on both countries, and ensuring the war was not forgotten by future generations.

Huia's relative, Winiata Kapinga, was a private in the Maori contingents 32nd Reinforcements and set sail for England in October 1918.

She learnt of Kapinga from her father who was passionate about whakapapa and genealogy, and had done research on him.

Kapinga was a farmer in Te Kuiti and lived on a homestead with his father, brother and sister.

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However, it was unclear if Kapinga reached the battlefront as the war ended the following month. Because he did not have children, collecting information on him had been difficult, Huia said.

Huia's grandparents are from Waikato, and said many Maori did not serve in World War I because they were divided about fighting for a Crown that was not theirs, she said.

But Kapinga would have signed up because he wanted to serve his country and to travel at the same time.

"That's what most of the men wanted to do at that time, they wanted to see the world," Huia said. "They didn't know the harshness of it."

She said the trip would also reconnect her with her roots.

"There was a lot of racism towards Maori when they went to war," she said.

The Maori contingent did not fight on the frontline and were relegated to digging trenches and building roads.

She was nominated for the trip by her French teacher, Margaret Bullen, who said the Huia's "leadership qualities" made her a good representative for New Zealand.

Taranaki Daily News