Funeral of Alfred 'Bunty' Preece

  • Hon Ron Mark

It’s good to be here, even though it’s a very sad event that has brought us all together today.

May I take the opportunity to pass on the condolences of the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern,  and a personal message of condolences from the Right Honourable Winston Peters,  who said in a text message to me last night that he knew Bunty very well, and there were many times where they’d had a quiet korero.

I’d like to acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues, the Hon Willie Jackson and Rino Tirikatene, and also Sir Wira Gardiner, who are here today.

We’re here to honour a truly great New Zealander. And it is an honour and a privilege to be able to address you and your whanau today, Bunty.

Lieutenant Alfred “Bunty” Preece, Chatham Islander, was born in 1922.  He answered the call to arms to defend our way of life against one of the most professional, well-trained, best-equipped, best-organised, military forces of evil to ever threaten mankind and our way of life. Bunty,  you did that, and you didn’t have to. The Chatham Islands is about as far away from the horrors of Europe and the war in Europe as you could imagine. But like so many, Bunty, you answered the call and volunteered.

It was interesting for me to read that Bunty actually joined the Army Service Corps originally. Not of his choice, but that’s where they suggested he should be. But undeterred in his quest to become part of the 28th Māori Battalion, he corrected that when he was deployed to Egypt. There he became a member of D Company,  affectionately known as Ngati Walkabout, because D Company was made up of tribes, iwi and people from everywhere including people from Ngāti Kahungunu rohe in the Wairarapa, and I know it included people from Rarotonga, people from Tonga, people from Samoa, and I’m of the understanding there was even a Pawnee Indian.

Bunty saw the horrors of war, more than many, and he is quoted as saying Italy is where he truly found out what it was like to be afraid. That was a feeling that was reiterated by my foster uncle Sergeant Lou Thorburn, who served in Italy as well. But that didn’t stop Bunty and in an attitude that would define his life he just kept going. He was wounded in Monte Cassino, quite badly, but he was back at the front three months later.

He would be wounded two more times before the war was out, and would also have the honour of being mentioned in dispatches.  People don’t get that for turning up, they get that for distinguished conduct.  Commissioned in the field, commanding a platoon, and briefly D Company, is recognition of his bravery and skill as a soldier and an officer.

Bunty also served in J-Force so his service was longer than just World War 2. 

He saw first-hand the effects of nuclear weapons and the total devastation that it brought. He is one of the small number who served in Egypt, Italy and with J-Force.

He returned to the Chatham Islands and raised a family, only to suffer more tragedy with the death of his son. 

He demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities not only on the battlefield, but like many of the officers of theMāori Battalion, continued in a post-war leadership role for his comrades, their families, his community and our wider community.

Today we thank you and recognise you, Bunty, for your loyal service, including service as Mayor of theChathams and National President of the 28th Māori Battalion.

Bunty’s service to New Zealand was recognised with a Queen’s Service Order.

His legacy is very much that of personal courage and leadership on the battlefield, and in the community. He was an outstanding Māori leader and New Zealander. One we should all look up to.

As Minister of Defence, and a former serving Māori soldier, I am proud of the fact that the battle honours won by the Māori Battalion are today carried by the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, creating an enduring link between the men of the Māori Battalion and those men and women serving in the New Zealand Defence Force today.

Lieutenant Alfred “Bunty” Preece QSO did his duty unwaveringly,never asking for anything other than that which would make life better for others. We would do well to emulate his example.

As a Minister it’s not often I quote from the media. But I believe words used by Mike Crean from Fairfax are very apt at a time like this. Mike interviewed Bunty at the Māori Battalion’s last reunion in December 2012. Of him he said:“He marched with 28 (Māori) Battalion of the NZ Army 2nd  Division, right through Italy, in 1944 and 1945. He marched through fire, through woundings, through the loss of comrades.

“He marched through the stench of dead soldiers left lying in the open because enemy snipers were watching. Now he marches through memories.

“Pride in his battalion surges through a body bent by years of rain-laden winds that storm off southern seas to enshroud his islands.

“His head bows as he explains how immediate his memories of those traumatic days in battle are. His sheet of white hair flops over closed eyes. Again the poet in him speaks – ‘The most gentle became savage, and the savage would weep’. These were the two extremes. These were what the Māori Battalion was all about."

I want to take a moment to share two observations of the men of the 28th Māori Battalion from two men you may never know nor meet. . Just last night I pulled out the memoirs of a foster uncle, Sergeant Lou Thorburn, who served in World War 2 with Queen Alexandra’s Mounted Riflesand then with the 26th Battalion. As a Māori child growing up with numerous foster families, I didn’t have much contact with my Māori whanaunga. Uncle Lou was one who would spend time with me when he and Aunty Eva visited. One moment I have never forgotten is of this man, who fought in Egypt, Libya and Italy to the end of the war and who never talked about the war. One day whilst sitting beside me on the porch he said “you know Ronnie, if you had seen what I have seen the Māori soldiers of the 28th Battalion do, you would forever be proud that you are a Māori, never forget that.”

And then this morning on my way to the airport my driver overheard me talking to one of my staff about today’s events and Bunty. When I finished my call he said:  “Minister, I’m very sorry to hear of the loss of another soldier from the Māori Battalion. My dad served in the 21st Battalion and he always said ‘if you were going into battle you always wanted the Māori beside you or behind you because they were fearless and they looked after everyone’.”

Bunty epitomised those men, who chiselled that reputation in the minds of their fellow soldiers.

Bunty, you led your men well. You were a credit to your whanau, your battalion, your island, your tribe, your country. You stood up for the side of good, in the most harrowing time the world has seen.

Be with your tipuna, be at peace with your old comrades.

We will remember you.