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The whānau of 24 Māori Battalion soldiers who fought in World War II have received their medals at a ceremony at Whirinaki Whare Taonga in Upper Hutt on Saturday.
Four senior New Zealand Army Officers, together with Minister of Defence Peeni Henare, presented medals to whānau, which recognise the service and sacrifice of soldiers and officers of the 28th Māori Battalion.
“This is a significant day to honour the service and sacrifice of those soldiers from 28 (Māori) Battalion all those years ago," Chief of Army, Major General John Boswell, said in an NZ Defence Force statement.
“It’s also an opportunity to recognise the mana they brought to themselves, to their families, the New Zealand Army and New Zealand.”
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Henare described the ceremony as a "special day" in a social media post on Sunday.
"For many various reasons medals went unclaimed by soldiers and whānau asking questions about their ancestors' service brought about this sad but healing process. This ceremony follows others around the country and I look forward to the final one amongst my whanaunga from the north."
At the ceremony, the Defence Minister said, "stories were told about their loved ones that served so bravely through World War 2 and subsequent conflicts.
"The medals handed out to whanau truly are taonga as I reflect on just how special it is for my whanau who treasure our grandfathers medals and memory."
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Colonel Trevor Walker has been responsible for coordinating ceremonies on behalf of the NZ Army and said each ceremony was subtly different.
“At other locations, the Company affiliation was clear. Here in Upper Hutt, we had family members from all over the motu.”
New Zealand Government policy after World War II was that former service personnel would have to apply for their medals, which would then be sent to them through the post.
The NZDF said this was to avoid the problems experienced after World War I, when about 10 per cent of medals posted to ex-service personnel or their families were returned because of out-of-date address information.
For a variety of reasons, many World War II veterans did not claim their medals.
NZDF Personnel Archives and Medals worked with David Stone, from Te Mata Law, regarding the unclaimed medals of the Māori Battalion.
“The team from NZDF archives are the unsung heroes of this kaupapa. They reviewed thousands of files to determine who had received medals and who were yet to claim,” Colonel Walker said.
Similar ceremonies have been held in Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, Burnham and Rotorua. Another event will be held at Waitangi in 2023.
The families of the men who never claimed their medals are entitled to apply for them through the New Zealand Defence Force Personnel Archives and Medals Office.
This article has been updated to include Defence Minister Peeni Henare's social media post.