LAC Paul (second from right) with the New Zealand Defence Force Maori Cultural Group at the Cassino Railway Station Memorial.
21 May 2014
Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Ahjah Paul’s singing brought tears to veterans’ eyes as part of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) Maori Cultural Group (MCG) performance at the Cassino Railway Station in Italy this week.
The group performed at the commemorative services that mark the 70th anniversary of the Battles of Cassino. In attendance were 38 New Zealand Cassino war veterans, all of them in are their nineties.
LAC Paul is a logistics specialist at Royal New Zealand Air Force Base Ohakea but she is originally from Putaruru. She is also a proud member of the Ohakea MCG.
The NZDF MCG, which is deployed to Cassino, is made up of personnel from all three services. They performed waiata and other songs that were familiar to the veterans at the Cassino commemoration services.
"I was talking to one of our veterans after we performed and he had tears in his eyes. He told me that our final song, ‘Po Atarau’, or ‘Now is the Hour’, was the song they sung when his ship left New Zealand for the war. It brought back a lot of memories for him,” said LAC Paul.
The ceremony at the Railway Station was significant because it is the site of a fierce battle that took place between 28 Maori Battalion and the opposing forces during the struggle for Cassino. It resulted in severe losses for the Battalion.
LAC Paul says she was proud of the veterans, and it was an honour to perform at the commemorative services.
"The New Zealand commemorative service at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery was very moving, especially when everyone cheered and clapped the veterans as they entered the cemetery. Prince Harry, who attended the service, came over to us afterwards and said how much he had enjoyed our singing."
As well as performing, the group helped the official caregivers look after the veterans, some of whom were in wheelchairs. "They are lovely men with some great stories to tell."
It is not the first time LAC Paul has performed overseas.
She travelled to Gallipoli as part of the NZDF MCG to attend the 95th anniversary of WW1, and last year she travelled to the USA to take part in New Zealand Week to enhance the NZ-US relationship.
She has experienced many highlights in her career so far, including welcoming the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
However, performing at Gallipoli and Cassino are at the top of the list. "I hold these experiences dear to my heart and will cherish them forever."