Mystery surrounds local war veteran

Anzac 2014The name of a First World War veteran on Gordonton’s cenotaph is a complete mystery.

“Sometimes I wondered, was it a mistake that they put this man’s name here,” Gordonton’s Cilla Henry told Waikato Times reporter Elton Smallman recently.

Paritawa Tewai is one of two Maori names etched on the memorial – the other belongs to her great-uncle Private Amo Pene who, she said may have known Tewai.

“Uncle Amo was registered in Morrinsville and did work with the army and I would imagine Paritawa would have done the same thing,” she said.

Through whakapapa, Maori link family to family and tribe to tribe but Henry said Tewai’s name didn’t ring a bell.

She felt a sense of sadness no-one in the Gordonton community knew who the war veteran was.

“I’d come here for years and stand in front of them on Anzac morning and I’d say, ‘who are you?'”

Despite no family or tribal connection, Henry said Tewai’s wairua, his spirit, was always there during Anzac services.

One hundred years after the Anzac landing at Gallipoli, she was determined to find out who he was.

Local researchers found there were three different spellings to Tewai’s first name Paritawa, Paretawa and Paratawa and an alternative spelling to his surname, Te Wai. Gisborne District Council cemetery records show his as P. (Beau) Tewai.

Service records from Auckland War Memorial Museum’s online cenotaph show Private Paritawa Tewai was 18-years-old when war was declared in 1914. He embarked for the front line in September 1915.

Tewai served in Egypt and France with the Maori Pioneer Battalion where he was wounded and 26 years later, at the outbreak of the Second World War, joined the Royal New Zealand Airforce as an aircraft hand before becoming a flight sergeant.

After the war, he remained in the service and in 1946, became an Air Training Corps instructor for the Auckland province – a position he held for 13 years.

He died in in February 1959 at the age of 63 and was buried at Tokomaru Bay, near Gisborne.

Henry hoped to get in touch with Tewai’s family before Anzac Day in he hope they would attend a service at Gordonton and read the Ode of Remembrance in te reo Maori.

“I got a phone call to see if I could get somebody to read the ode in Maori and the wairua came back to me again,” said Henry.

“It was honouring his name, honouring his tribe of Ngati Porou. That was important.”


Update:  local historian Alan Sharp has since identified Paritawa Tewai’s link with the Gordonton district.  According to the NZ Expeditionary Force Roll, prior to the war Mr Tewai was working on the Freshfield Estate just north of the intersection of Dawson Rd and Lake Rd, Komakorau.   “I assume, though at this time have no evidence, that there was a recruitment day held at the Gordonton Hall in 1914,”  Mr Sharp said.

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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