World War 2
This article appeared in the 29 March - 2 April 2002 NZ 28 Maori Battalion Reunion booklet.
811123 Len Helmbright DMC
Leonard Helmbright was born to Reginald Helmbright and Parekohai Waiariki in January 1920. He was to become an outstanding warrior of Tumatauenga. From an early age Len worked hard on the land. He joined the Maori Battalion during the Italian Campaign and presented many challenges for his officers but was skilful in softening enemy defences with his solitary infiltrating tactics.
I recall on our push into Florence he came upon an advance reconnitre group of his unit - one was wounded one was dead. With indescribable yells, which bought other men to his side, they advanced upon the entrenched enemy.
I swear to this day that enemy bullets went around these attacking men. Maybe wound was causing me to hallucinate, but no one fell. When the enemy was dealt with, back he came to his dead friend and held him as tears flowed fiercely down his face. Yes, a warrior can cry.
A reluctant hero, Len came home with a DCM and like the rest of us set about "getting on with it." This meant back to the land, a wife, children, trying to provide, survive and keep the "demons" at bay.
In 1995 Len in the company of his daughter and a small group of comrades, returned to Italy. We visited the cemeteries to finally farewell our mates that we had left behind more than 50 years before and lay our demons to rest.
Len was an unforgettable character - larger than life, gregarious, hardworking, loyal with a great sense of humor. He never forgot his comrades and they would never forget him. Len spent many years farming around Dargaville. In his later years he purchased a hotel in this area and was well known for both his hospitality and the way in which he settled disputes. "Lets go and sort things out..."
Now he lies in the cemetery of his birthplace, Te Kaha, among his mates and whanau. My guess will be that Len will be helping St Peter at the gate "to sort things out"
Moe mai! Moe mai! Moe mai!
Moe mai e koro e
I tou moenga roa
Runga I te Puke
Ma te Atua koe e tiaki
Moe mai e koro
I tou moenga roa.
Len Helmbright died in Whangarei 14 Nov 2001. He was survived by 9 children, 52 grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren.
By John Waititi
Private Helmbright showed outstanding courage and resourcefulness during an attack on 24 July 1944 in the advance to the PESA RIVER, Italy. When his section Commander was wounded, PTE Helmbright took command of the section and attacked three machine gun posts. With a light machine gun he went forward under heavy machine gun fire directed at him and wiped out single-handed two of the enemy posts. It was this great deed that enabled the platoon to move forward. Through this and subsequent actions he showed devotion to duty, courage and determination of the very highest order.