Major General John Boswell (left), Sir Robert ‘Bom’ Gillies (the sole surviving member of the Māori Battalion), Colonel Trevor Walker and Colonel (retired) Ray Seymour at Waitangi.
The 28th Māori Battalion unclaimed medals kaupapa has ended with the final ceremony last weekend at Pakipaki’s Houngarea Marae in Napier.
Chief of Army, Major General John Boswell, took part in presenting 46 sets of medals to whānau, to recognise the service and sacrifice of soldiers and officers of the 28th Māori Battalion.
“This process has seen just over 400 families awarded the medals earned by their whānau for service with 28 [Maori] Battalion during World War II.
“We should look back with pride at the service of all of our units in the Second World War.
“The Māori Battalion holds a special place in that history for what they achieved on the battlefield, but also for what they represented, and the mana they brought to themselves, to their families, to our Army, and to our nation.”
Sir Robert (Bom) Gillies, the last surviving member of the 28 (Maori) Battalion, attended Saturday’s proceedings as he has attended medal ceremonies held throughout the three-year journey.
Colonel Trevor Walker has led the coordination of all ceremonies on behalf of the New Zealand Army in Waitangi, Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, Christchurch, Trentham, Horowhenua and Rotorua.
“Having the final ceremony held at Houngarea Marae was incredibly significant,” Walker said.
“Not only was this where the first medals ceremony was conducted in 2021, but members of the 28 (Maori) Battalion were bid farewell here and welcomed back to Pakipaki during and immediately following World War II.”
New Zealand government policy after World War II was that former service personnel needed to apply for their medals, which would then be mailed to them.
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World War I, when about 10 per cent of medals posted to ex-service personnel or their families were returned because of out-of-date address information.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 number of reasons, thousands of World War II medals were never claimed by veterans.
The New Zealand Defence Force’s Personnel Archives and Medals unit worked with David Stone, from Te Mata Law, regarding the unclaimed medals of 28 (Maori) Battalion.
They identified approximately 500 sets of medals which had not been claimed by former battalion personnel.
“NZDF Archives in Trentham have worked long hours in their own time to ensure we have been able to go through all the records and identify those people, those soldiers, who deserved the medallic recognition and didn’t receive it,” Walker said.
While the Pakipaki ceremony was the culmination of this kaupapa, the families of men and women who never claimed their medals from military service are entitled to apply for them through NZDF Personnel Archives and Medals.