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March 12, 2018 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Last Surviving Officer of the Māori Battalion Dies

First Lieutenant Alfred ‘Bunty’ Preece, the last surviving officer of the D Company, commonly known as the “Māori Battalion,” died last Friday 2 March. He was 96 years old.

Lieutenant Preece served as an officer in Māori Battalion, of the 28th (Māori) New Zealand Infantry Battalion during The Second World War.

The Battalion was formed in 1939 when prominent Māori members of Parliament and the wider Māori community proposed that a combat unit consisting mainly of Māori be established. The Māori community hoped that this unit would prove Māori loyalty to the British Empire, and “test their warrior skills,” according to historian J F Cody.

The 28th Battalion went on to serve in Greece, North Africa and Italy throughout the war, and received more individual decorations for bravery than any other New Zealand unit.

Sir Bernard Freyburg, VC, Commanding Officer of the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force and future Governor General of New Zealand, was recorded as saying by Lieutenant Preece himself that “No infantry had a more distinguished record, or saw more fighting, or, alas, had such heavy casualties, as the Māori Battalion”.

The legacy of the Māori Battalion played an important part in what has come to be known as the “Māori Renaissance,” with former Battalion members often being at the forefront of Māori issues and politics throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Their descendants serve in prominent roles today, for example, the Honourable Peeni Henare, Labour Party Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, Whānau Ora, and Youthbeing. Peeni’s great grandfather was Sir James Henare, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Māori Battalion.

Lieutenant Preece served for three years in the New Zealand Army, and was wounded at the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. He went on to become Mayor of the Chatham Islands, and was an advocate for wider Māori issues throughout his life.

Alfred was laid to rest on 5 March 2018 at his home on the islands.

Ake! Ake! Kia Kaha E! (Upwards, upwards, be strong!) – motto of the 28th (Māori) Battalion, New Zealand Army.

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