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Sir Bom Gillies Honoured At 80th Year Commemoration At Monte Cassino

E koro mā, koutou kua ngaro nei i te tirohanga kanohi, koutou o te 28th Māori Battalion i pakanga ki te umu pokapoka o Tūmatauenga mō tātou te take, takoto tiraha mai rā, auē taukuri e!

Robert Gillies & Bayden Barber. Photo/Supplied

Sir Bom Gillies was the guest of honour at the 80th year commemoration since the Allied Forces fought the German Army at the battle of Monte Cassino in Southern Italy.  Uncle Robert (Bom) Gillies was 17 when he enlisted in the army, finding his way into the celebrated 28th Māori Battalion. Bom was born and raised in Waimārama (Ngāti Kurukuru) but later moved to Rotorua where his mother was from (Ngāti Whakaue).  He would serve with his Te Arawa relations from B Company.  Sir Bom was accompanied by his Ngāti Whakaue relations including the Kapa Haka o Ngāti Whakaue, The A Company rangatahi cadets from Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahungunu Chair Bayden Barber and Whakaata Māori CEO Shane Taurima were there to represent Sir Bom’s Ngāti Kahungunu whakapapa and his cousins from D Company. Shane also led a large group of media to cover the events.

“It was a great honour to accompany uncle Bom onto the Monte Cassino Cemetery where so many of our tīpuna are buried.  It was a surreal experience as we came onto the urupā in full Māori fashion, karanga, tangi, haka, karakia, it was a full expression of our emotions for our young soldiers that never made it home to their whānau”, says Barber.

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Sir Bom, who is now in his one hundredth year, was full of emotion as he lead the congregation onto the urupā, flanked by his mokopuna and relations from Ngāti Whakaue and Ngāti Kahungunu.  The official ceremony included representations from all of the Allied Armed Forces who fought to liberate Monte Cassino, including the English, Australians, Canadians, Polish and Indians.  Our Minister of Defence, Hon. Judith Collins spoke about her father’s experience fighting at Cassino.  She was very emotional as she relayed her speech. Following the official ceremony the crowd was treated to a full bracket of waiata and haka from te Kapa o Ngāti Whakaue at the part of the urupā where our Māori soldiers lay.

The following day, the NZDF and Italian Government held a memorial service at the Cassino Train Station where members of the 28th Māori Battalion suffered heavy casualties, especially those from A and B Companies.  It was relayed that of the 200 Māori soldiers that fought at the Station, 150 of them were killed, injured or  captured.  This battle was probably the worst day of fighting that the battalion experienced during the war. Again the whakaeke was full of tikanga Māori, with tangi, karanga, haka and karakia. 

Says Barber, “I am very grateful for the opportunity to attend both of these services, especially in the presence of our last surviving member of the Māori Battalion who was in “te mura o te ahi”, during that battle.  Despite their valour in battle, uncle still bemoans how they came home to a country that did not fully appreciate the cost that Māori paid for citizenship in Aotearoa. They were not afforded the opportunities given to their Pākehā colleagues.  He tried to purchase a farm in Waimārama after the war but was unsuccessful and overlooked for a Pākehā veteran instead.  This is shocking, especially because he is haukāinga, but it is very representative of what many experienced.  No jobs and little in the way of future prospects.  We can never allow this to happen again.  Let’s honour the brave service or our ancestors by being the best we can be as Ngāti Kahungunu, as Māori and as New Zealanders.”

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