Maori Affairs Minister Dr Pita Sharples acknowledged with great sadness the death of William Ratahi Pitman, the former National President of the 28 (Maori) Battalion Association. He was 94 years old.
“He was 22 when he left for North Africa as part of the fifth reinforcement. He fought in the desert campaigns and in Italy, where the Maori Battalion earned a fearsome reputation that is a source of pride to New Zealanders today.
“On his return from war he worked on farms, for the Power Board, for Northern Steel, as a crane driver.
“In 2010 he was National President of the Maori Battalion Association, the leader of a force depleted by age and ill health. There are now only 27 veterans surviving, and only two from ‘A’ Company, the so-called Gumdiggers from North Auckland.
“So Bill’s loss is a serious blow to the Association, and to Maori people and all New Zealanders who cherish their memory.
“But most of all, his passing will be felt by Bill’s family, and our thoughts go out to the whanau.