Fallen soldier to be buried next to his loving parents & # 39;

A trip home that has been in the making for 64 years is finally coming to an end for the whānau of Sergeant George Nepia.

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Photo: RNZ / John Boynton

The eldest son of All Black legend George Nepia was one of the 27 soldiers who were repatriated this week from abroad and he made his way back to the east coast yesterday.

In the center of the St. Mary's Church in Tikitiki, sunlight flows through a glass window with two soldiers kneeling on the cross before Christ.

One of those soldiers is George Nepia's grandfather, Henare Mokena Kohere, who died in the First World War after he was injured in the Battle of the Somme.

In 1954 George Nepia died in Singapore while serving for the Fijian battalion and was buried at Kranji's military cemetery.

St Mary's Church was founded by Ngati Porou leader Sir Apirana Ngata as a memorial to the east coast Māori soldiers who fought and died in the First World War.

Whakairo (carvings) adorn the pews, walls and ceilings of the church and it was a suitable first stop for the return of the soldier home.

At Rangitukia it was the turn of the haukainga to welcome their fallen son back to Hinepare Marae.

A row of poppies made a path from the front door to the wharenui and the tears fell when the coffin of George Nepia came to rest.

Joe Naden

Joe Naden
Photo: RNZ / John Boynton

George's nephew Joe Naden is 81 and one of the last people to remember that he grew up with him.

Mr. Naden said he was being touted as the future All Black wing defender, just like his father, and he was the tie of Gisborne Boys High School

"He was easy going, had a pile of friends and was very popular as an adolescent."

Says remembered a story told by his sister from the last night that George spent with his father before he went to war while walking up the road.

"She heard them sing this song aloud because no one else was on the road.

"How Deep was the Night" was the song that my sister heard singing. "

Mr. Naden said that George could finally rest in peace at his family urupa (cemetery) at Rangitukia.

"(His whānau), they are all in a conspiracy with a fence around it, and the grandparents, so that's a good thing to get out of all this in his repatriation is that he is buried next to his loving parents."

Ramari Nepia, left, Callum Phillips, center and Whānau.

Ramari Nepia, left, Callum Phillips, center and Whānau.
Photo: RNZ / John Boynton

Ramari Nepia said his whanau never stopped fighting to get George back.

"It is a dream come true, you know, it has been their dream for years.

"I married the youngest son and he longed for his brother to come home."

Her mokopuna, Callum Phillips, is the son of Rose Nepia who worked with the Defense Force on repatriation and he kept a photo of George while he was leading his Whānau on Hinepare Marae.

He summarized the sense of opportunity in one word.


"In the end it was all about coming home, and if you put it in perspective, it's been nothing for 64 years, so it's better late than never."

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