Last 'gum diggers' Māori battalion veteran dies

Charlie Petera
Charlie Petera

One of the last of the 28th Māori Battalion has died.

Charlie Petera served with the battalion's A Company, known as the Gum Diggers. He was the last surviving veteran of the A Company and died aged 90 at his Northland home surrounded by family.

World War II historian Monty Soutar says Mr Petera's death is like watching history disappear.

"It's the passing of our connection to World War II that we're seeing each time one of these guys passes away."

The Māori battalion spent six years overseas from May 1940-1946 and served in Greece, Crete, North Africa and Italy. Mr Soutar says wherever they went they were well respected by friend and foe.

"One of the reasons they were called up all the time is because they performed very well, probably over and above expectations."

He says the last time he saw Mr Petera was two months ago at Otiria Marae in the Northland town of Moerewa during a Waitangi Tribunal meeting for veterans claims.

"Just the fact we had him on the Marae and he was out there carried some weight, I think it was a privilege."

Mr Petera was born and grew up in Te Hapua, and when he returned from the war he settled in Ngataki, became a farmer and there brought up his family.

Ngati Kuri Chairperson Harry Burkhardt says his Uncle Charlie was one of the last surviving kaumatua who was born in an era and a time that focused on hapū (geneology), embraced tikanga (customs) and reo (language).

"Mr Petera was a repository for Ngati Kuritanga and our reo and was a powerful orator with mana and provided significant leadership for our people over his lifetime.

"His passion was to serve his people. He was always interested in his people.

"Ngati Kuri feels the passing of our beloved kaumatua deeply," says Mr Burkhardt.

Mr Petera's tangi (funeral) is being held at Wai Ora Marae Ngātaki with the funeral to be held at 10am on Tuesday June 14, and the burial at his Whānau urupā [cemetery] Perepetua.