This is taken from The Maori Battalion returns to Tamaki Makaurau, 30th National Reunion, March 2010.
Reg No 811099
Kepa was born about 1919 (There were no birth certificates for Maori) in Ruatoki of Tuhoe descent. He celebrated his 90th birthday in October 2009 at Ohotu Marae. Kepa is the youngest of seven children four boys and three girls to parents Poto Riki Kepa and Kahoki Kenana Te Haeata and was raised by his grandmother Mereana in Ruatoki.
He moved to Te Teko with his wife Elsie Pirihita Ngaheu and they lived with her parents. Their first daughter Sophie Kahoki Tehoney was born before he enlisted in the Maori Battalion and he had another one on the way before he left for overseas, Te-Oti Barbara.
Kepa was barely 18 years old and quite possibly younger when he joined 28 NZ (Maori) Battalion.
Maori did not come under the National Service Act and like all those who joined the 28 Maori Battalion, Kepa was a volunteer and considered it an honour to serve. Until then his farm-boys military training had been in the Home Guard at Whakatane. Kepa left behind his wife and two young daughters and embarked in 1940 for training in England and he would not see Aotearoa again until 1946.
“Major Tupuna told me I was a stretcher bearer so I rushed in when someone fell and put the bandages on. It was hard because I knew these boys. Every night my mates and I would say prayers in Maori before we went to sleep” says Kepa.
When Kepa returned he and his wife went on to have two more sons Buffalo George Te Rangiataahua and Aubrey who died of cot death.
Kepa helped out on the farm as well as helping out other whanau, until he secured himself a job at “Rangitaiki Plains Dairy Company” in Edgecumbe, as the factory was closer to his wife’s grandmother’s place at Kokohinau marae.
Every year they held the ANZAC Memorial at the marae and it was where he kept in touch with all his mates from 28 Maori Battalion both in Te Teko and Ruatoki. He continued to work at the factory and travelled to work on his trusty bike and that kept him fit. He went eeling every Sunday and had an orchard full of all the lovely fruit trees of those days but the house itself was only one bedroom and kitchen with an open fire, no water, no power and two wooden windows that needed a prop to hold them open.
As time went on Kepa got himself a job with the “Symes Timber Mill” in Edgecumbe and thiscame with a house so he moved into the township. However the house wasn’t much better than the one he had left.
Still life went on and he would go to the billiard saloon every Saturday from 1pm with two pounds in his pocket and by 5pm he would have enough money for him to go to the pub next door till 6pm which in those days was closing time.
Kepa never went home on his own from the pub on Saturdays as the guys that worked at the Hudro and lived in the camp would always be taken home and enjoy their drinks and sing as long as it was home away from home for many of them who came from up north –Waikato, Tauranga and Rotorua. Those that stayed over night Kepa would take out on Sunday eeling, along with his daughter as his bagboy. There was never a dull moment in Kepa’s life.
When he left Edgecumbe after six years at the mill he moved to Meremere Power Station in theWaikatowhere he still lives today with his foster son. He started off with the village gang then went to work in the coal mines in Maramarua and Meremere. He was highly respected by all who knew him and worked with him.
When the station closed down he was told he could remain in his house for as long as he wished and his rent was not to be changed. This was written into the contract by the Electrical Corp bosses such was their admiration for a worker who never took sick leave in all the years he worked at Meremere Power Station.
Kepa lost his wife in 1977 and has remained on his own sine. During his working days he loved playing pool, golf and of course eeling. Those were his passions apart from keeping his home and gardens in top condition. Neighbours would comment on how beautiful his garden was – he would even cut his hedge with hand shears.
Today, Kepa is still walking only with the aid of a walking stick and still keeps himself and his home immaculate. His mind is still very alert and if anyone has a good listening ear he will, in his true Tuhoe accent, tell heaps of stories from way back. He now has 18 mokopuna, 57 moko tuarua and 18 moko tuatoru from three children.
[Site editors note: Kepa Kepa passed away on 11th November 2012]