The death of the last surviving officer of the renowned 28 (Maori) Battalion of World War Two Captain Alfred (Bunty) on his Chatham Island home on Friday March 1 marked the end of an era in New Zealand’s military history . He was 96.
Of European, Maori and Moriori descent Preece joined the battalion in 1943 at the end of the North African Campaign and fought through the Italian Campaign until the end of the war. He was twice wounded, promoted to captain and mentioned in despatches (mid) for his gallantry in action against German infantry. He also served in J Force, the allied occupational forces in Japan after the war.
Bunty was a quite but determined man and in the decades following the Second World War Preece, became involved in the political affairs of the Chatham Islands and served as chairman of the former Chatham Islands County Council.
He was also disappointed at the attitude of many New Zealanders, and successive governments following the war. “Most of us had nothing and got nothing. We went home to an old house. Some went back to the bush to start again and you lost those war years from your life and nobody wanted to know you or what you had been through.”
Bunty said that attitude had changed in recent years to the point where he no longer wanted to talk about the war. He could still recall the details of all those battles and said it was about all he had left to talk about.
“The experience broadened my horizons and equipped me with knowledge I would never have had other than by going to war. It showed me other lands and people living in poverty and taught me how to live with all classes of people to help and support one another. I also saw the worst side of life, destruction and death. I pray that my children and grandchildren never have to experience the horror and hell of war. We fought hard and suffered for so little when we got back.”
Visits to New Zealand and old battle fields in Italy, as a member of the RSA and the 28 (Maori) Battalion Association keep fresh the memories of those turbulent times when death and comradeship were close. He remembered the names of those who died, where and how they died and, for some their last moments, as he held them and tried to reassure them that “it would be alright soon”.
Ka nui te mihi aroha e te rangatira toa o Tumatuenga. He morehu o te Pakanga turua o te ao. He rangatira o te ao Pakeha me te ao Maori hoki.
Haere atu koe e Pa ki to tipuna. Haere, haere, haere ra.