ACWS Ohinematatoa Iti places a poppy at a headstone in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery
War 21 May 2014
For Ohinemataroa Iti the most important part of visiting Cassino in Italy is being with the veterans, and honouring her tipuna who are buried at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery.
Iti, a Whakatane High School old girl, is now a communications warfare specialist (ACWS) in the Royal New Zealand Navy. She is a member of the New Zealand Defence Force Maori Cultural Group which is in Cassino to support the 38 veterans who are there to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Cassino.
The veterans are all in their nineties and are supported by a 25-strong team of doctors, nurses, medics and carers.
Iti, joined the Navy in 2008 because she liked the idea of "making my whanau, hapu and iwi proud". She has two young children and is based in Auckland with her partner Karl, who is an Army chef.
"I feel honoured to have been chosen to be part of the Maori Cultural Group for this visit to Italy. We are supporting the various services with waiata, haka and karanga. It's an emotional experience, and at times a little overwhelming."
The commemorations include services at the Cassino Railway Station, and the Cassino Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.
The railway station is significant to the veterans because it was the scene of fierce fighting involving two companies of the 28th Maori Battalion. The Battalion paid a heavy price – over 100 of the 200 men who mounted the attack became casualties.
The cemetery at Cassino holds the graves of 456 New Zealanders, and a further 55 names are listed on the Cassino Memorial, their final resting place unknown.
Iti said she loved hearing the veterans' stories, and being part of their journey back to the place where they fought.