70 years ago this month
Reconnaissance and patrols are undertaken to ready for the Battalion's attack on the Cassino railway station. The attack saw the unit suffer over 100 casualties in less than 24 hours, the heaviest of any of the New Zealand units. Read the war diary for February 1944 here
Tamati Maungarangi Paraone
This obituary appeared in the New Zealand Herald, 18 March 2008:
Maori Battalion bids farewell to one of its oldest
By Yvonne Tahana
As the 28 Maori Battalion gears up for its annual reunion, one of its oldest members was laid to rest in the Far North yesterday.
Tamati Maungarangi Paraone (Ngati Hine) was part of the first wave of Maori soldiers to enlist in 1939. Eventually 3600 soldiers would serve in the battalion, but only four of the original 39ers are still alive.
Mr Paraone, 91, died last Friday, a week before he was due to meet up with old friends in Gisborne for three days - it was an occasion the former battalion association president was staunchly supportive of, friend Derek Fox said.
"Every now and again there would be a meeting and someone would ask, 'How much longer can we keep meeting?' They're getting on. He put it on the line a few years back at Omapere and said, 'We'll keep meeting until the last one drops - and then you can turn the lights off'.
"What you've got to remember is he was probably the oldest [Maori] man in the North. He was a real treasure and yet he had been away to war and come back and still lived a full life," said Mr Fox.
Mr Paraone was born in Otiria and raised by his grandmother. He was in his early 20s, working for the Northland Electric Power Board, when war broke out.
A Company, dubbed the Gumdiggers because its members hailed from northern iwi, was his unit. Its reputation was forged through military prowess and it was something the 28 Battalion, which saw action in North Africa, Greece, Crete and Italy, took pride in, Mr Paraone once said.
After three years of fighting German forces in North Africa, his campaign was ended by a shrapnel blast on the outskirts of Tobruk in 1943.
Last year, the former sergeant told the Herald that pieces ended up in his eye and back. Although keen to stay, he was sent home - it was that or go blind.
"I was so aroha [sorry] for my mates. I didn't want to leave my friends, but when the Army tells you to do something, you do it, no humbug. So I came home."
Descended from Kawiti, one of Ngati Hine's greatest tacticians who led Maori against the British in the Northern War, Mr Paraone was one of an elite group who issued the wero (challenge) at Waitangi from the 1930s until the 1960s, said his relation Erima Henare.
"He always conducted himself in a way befitting of his whakapapa [bloodline] - the guy had good breeding. I think the numbers of people who came to his tangi and the intensity of the debate over his final resting place was an indication of his mana."
A representative New Zealand Maori and North Auckland rugby player, after the war Mr Paraone developed farming, orcharding and commercial property ventures.
"He was purchasing and doing commercial property long before [other Maori] were. He was a generous man - of his time, his energies and his money. He gave so much of it away - that's the mark of his generation."
Mr Paraone is survived by six children, including New Zealand First MP Pita Paraone, and last year was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Maori.
* ONLY SEVEN 'GUMDIGGERS' REMAIN
Tamati Maungarangi Paraone, one of the 28 (Maori) Battalion's oldest soldiers, has died at 91. Mr Paraone was an A Company ("Gumdiggers") veteran. Only seven Gumdiggers remain.
52 other soldiers are split among: B Company (the "Penny Divers"), from Hauraki, Rotorua and Bay of Plenty (17); C Company ("Cowboys"), from the East Coast, (18); and D Company ("Ngati Walkabout"), from Tainui, Wanganui and South Island (17).
Mr Paraone was also part of a smaller group - the 39ers, those who enlisted in 1939. The Maori Battalion's annual reunion will begin on Friday in Gisborne.