Charlie Petera, the last surviving member of A Company of the 28th Maori Battalion, died at his home at Ngataki on Friday night, surrounded by his whanau. He was 91.
Mr Petera was born and grew up at Te Hapua, settling at Ngataki, where he farmed and raised his family, after returning from service with the 28th Maori Battalion in North Africa and Italy 1941-45.
The Maori Battalion suffered the greatest losses of any Allied force at Monte Cassino, Italy, with 120 casualties from a force of 200. Fifty-eight of those casualties were buried in the war cemetery there, among more than 400 other New Zealanders.
Ngati Kuri chairman Harry Burkhardt said "Uncle Charlie" was one of the last surviving kaumatua born in an era and a time that focused on hapu, that embraced tikanga and te reo.
"He was a repository for Ngati Kuritanga and our reo, a powerful orator with mana who provided significant leadership for our people over his lifetime," he said.
"His passion was to serve his people. He was always interested in his people. Ngati Kuri feels the passing of our beloved kaumatua deeply."
New Zealand First leader and Northland MP Winston Peters said yet another of New Zealand's fine young men who took up arms on their country's behalf had gone, Maori Affairs spokesman Pita Paraone saying Mr Petera had come home from war and continued his service for others.
"He gave so much to his people," he said. "He carried on the spirit of the Maori Battalion, and it lives on through our memories of Charlie and his fellow soldiers."
Raewyn Tipene, chief executive of Whangarei's Leadership Academy of A Company, said she had learned of Mr Petera's death on her way home from Sir Graham Latimer's tangi at Pamapuria. Mr Petera, she said, had been integral in the establishment of the academy, which worked with whanau, high schools and the wider community to support young Maori men with talent or academic potential.
His importance to the academy's kaupapa could not be over-estimated.
Mr Petera will be laid to rest at his whanau urupa, Perepetua, after a service at Wai Ora Marae, Ngataki, at 10 o'clock this morning.