National | 28th Māori Battalion

Pukeahu remembers Māori Battalion Cassino campaign

It’s been 75 years since one of the 28th Māori Battalion's bloodiest campaigns, in Cassino, Italy.  Descendants in Wellington who could not make it to the Italy commemorations paid tribute at the Pukeahu War Memorial.

Moana-Lee Raihania has a special scarf tied around her neck; a gift to her late father Nolan Raihania, who served in the Māori Battalion C Company.

"I said to him, 'dad, why did you come [to Cassino]?'  He said 'girl, theirs is not to reason why, theirs is to do and die' and that was the price of citizenship."

Raihania and her father travelled to Cassino five years ago.  There, they met people he helped during the campaign.

"We were holding a service and these three Italian kuia came and they told us their story about what had happened during the war and one was wearing this scarf, and this scarf is a representation of the 'partisans', who were like the secret service of Itaria."

Italian Ambassador Fabrizio Marcelli says, "Coming from rural backgrounds [the battalion] interacted very well with the locals as they were farmers themselves.  Māori were very gifted at learning languages and their Italian pronunciation was perfect."

He says his country owes a debt to the Māori Battalion and is eternally grateful for their sacrifice for Italy's liberation.

"They were not felt as occupying forces or invaders, more like kindred spirits."

Marian Tipler attended Thursday's service.  She says the battalion's contribution is kept alive through song in her family.

"My father wasn't in the Māori Battalion, he was in the 20th Battalion, he didn't say much, but he was always so proud of the heroics of the 28th Māori Battalion.  My daughter, she's 17-years-old, the battalion song is the first one she learnt."

Raihania says, "I truly believe that if the battalion didn't arrive that we may not have won that war.

As the sun sets on commemorations in New Zealand, the sun rises for those in Cassino, Italy.