Epineha ‘Pine’ Ratapu. PHOTO/FILE

EPINEHA ‘PINE’ RATAPU  25/01/22-11/09/20

KAREN COLTMAN
karen.coltman@age.co.nz

Epineha Ratapu, the last living member of the 28th Maori Battalion’s C Company, died in Masterton on Friday morning just after 10am at the great age of 98.

The C Company comprised of men from Tairawhiti East Coast.

Ratapu saw action in the desert campaigns and Italy before joining J Force in Japan during World War II, remaining until 1948.

A couple of months ago, Ratapu [known as Pine] suffered kidney failure but his granddaughter Joelene Ratapu said he just kept on “bouncing back”. However, over the past couple of weeks, he had been deteriorating.

Ratapu lived in Masterton for 70 years.

He was known as a leader and kaumatua of his family and well known to many others in the Wairarapa Maori community.

He is of Ngati Porou and Ngai Tahu descent.

Joelene said, as well as his military service, he was known in Wairarapa for “being a great all-rounder”.

He did bush-clearing, forestry, fencing, and shearing among other jobs.

Ratapu was one of nine children.

He had eight children, 20 grandchildren, 51 great-grandchildren, and eight great-great-grandchildren.

Joelene said without the covid-19 gathering restrictions the family knew his funeral service would have been huge if it had been possible.

“Really, he was so important to so many people that he should be treated like a king, but we just can’t do that right now,” Joelene said.

The family is held an intimate service before he was taken to rest in Tokomaru Bay.

President of the Masterton Returned Services Association Trevor Thompson was the last non-family member to speak with Ratapu.

He visited him just before he died.

“He was a really lovely and humble man,” Thompson said.

When Thompson became RSA club president, he went to Ratapu and asked if there was anything they could do for him.

Ratapu’s response was that he would like to get some watercress regularly.

So that is what Thompson brought him.

“We could’ve done so much more, but this was the kind of guy he was. I am glad he is at peace now.”

Thompson travelled to Tokomaru Bay yesterday to be present at the service where he will be laid to rest in the land of his ancestors.