17 Jun 2016

No ceremonial support for Māori Battalion vet's tangi

7:38 am on 17 June 2016

The family of a Māori Battalion veteran are angry the government refused to provide ceremonial support for his tangi.

28th Māori Battalion A Company veteran Charlie Petera died last Saturday, June 11, 2016.

28th Māori Battalion A Company veteran Charlie Petera died last Saturday, June 11, 2016. Photo: Supplied

Charlie Petera was just 14 when he enlisted with the 28th Māori Battalion.

Although he fought under the New Zealand flag, it was a korowai that was draped on his coffin as he was laid to rest this week.

The family of Mr Petera, who was the last surviving member of the 28th Māori Battalion's A Company, were upset after an appeal for ceremonial support to lay the 92-year-old soldier was turned down by Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee.

Family spokesman Rudy Taylor said a request was made to Mr Brownlee for ceremonial and logistical support at the tangi, but it wasn't granted.

Mr Taylor said "Whether it be a bugle or whether a gun salute that soldiers do, or whether a cloth or the flag that hangs over him, nothing, nothing whatsoever."

Labour's Defence spokesperson Phil Goff sent the request to Mr Brownlee on behalf of the family and said he believed it could have been granted.

"I think there is a lot of discretion that the minister has. This was something that I think was a stand-out ocassion, it was the passing of the very last member who served actively in the A Company of the 28th Māori Battalion, and the reputation of that company is, really, legend.

The 28th Maori Battalion at a transit camp in Egypt on the morning after their evacuation from Crete, June 1941.

The 28th Maori Battalion at a transit camp in Egypt on the morning after their evacuation from Crete, June 1941. Photo: DIA / Alexander Turnbull Library

"They did incredible things for New Zealand and I think this would have been not only a way of ackonledging not only Charlie but all of those who served in A Company and the people of the North who sent their sons to fight and die on New Zealand's part of the Second World War."

"It was one that might have met the minister's discretion for providing Defence Force assistance."

Mr Brownlee argued that only a certain number of hui or tangi were supported each year.

"In a long standing agreement between the Ministers of Defence and Māori Affairs, the latter can declare up to three hui or tangi to be of national significance annually.

Joe Everitt delivers part of the service at 28th Māori Battalion A Company veteran Charlie Petera's tangi.

Joe Everitt delivers part of the service. Photo: Supplied

"While the passing of a Second World War veteran is sad, there are still over 2000 veterans living, including members of the 28th Māori Battalion.

"To accord ceremonial courtesies or provide logistical support to Mr Petera's tangi would set in my mind an unacceptable precendent for those who live."

When approached by RNZ News about the request, Mr Brownlee said he hadn't received any representation from Māori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell and was in no position to direct the military outside of protocol.

Mr Flavell's office said he had never received a request from the family and was not consulted by Mr Brownlee on the request he received.

Mr Taylor said he was disappointed with the official response.

"This was the last of the Battalion A Company from Te Tai Tokerau - an answer like that from a minister, then I question what is this government up to when it comes to deciding who gets funding. You're only dealing with the last you're not dealing with anymore after that."

There are just seven members of the 28th Māori Battalion still living and Mr Petera was the last from Company A.

Mr Goff said the Defence Minister had discretion.

He said he wrote on behalf of the Petera family and was disapppointed the government did not consider the tangi had sufficent status to provide the support.

About 3600 men served in the Māori battalion. Of those, 649 were killed or died of wounds.

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