18 May 2019
New Zealand Army Lieutenant Zarra Houpapa’s grandfather was on her mind as she proudly carried the 28 (Māori) Battalion banner at commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of the Battles of Cassino this week.
Lieutenant Houpapa’s grandfather, Tako Henare Houpapa, lied about his age to get into the Army during the Second World War and was only in his early 20s when he fought at Cassino in Italy.
He and his 28 (Māori) Battalion comrades played a crucial part in the battles there, because they were the only New Zealand battalion able to cross the flooded Rapido River and attack the town’s well-defended railway station.
Soldiers seized positions in and around the station but were forced to withdraw when German troops counterattacked. More than 150 of the 28 (Māori) Battalion soldiers were killed, wounded or captured in the battle for the station.
Tako Houpapa survived and Lieutenant Houpapa said his service with the Battalion was a huge part of his life.
“So being Ensign for the 28 (Māori) Battalion banner is a huge honour,” she said. “This is the first time it has been overseas, so it’s massive.”
So massive, in fact, that her parents Jay and Kia Houpapa and sister Holly all travelled to Italy to see her parade the banner in the commemorations.
Mr Houpapa said the services were incredibly emotional for the family, especially the railway station service, were so many iwi had died.
“We are so proud of how Zarra has represented my father and our whanau,” he said.
“It’s so emotional because it was a very big part of my father’s life.”
Mr Houpapa and one of his brothers served in the Army and that, combined with Lieutenant Houpapa’s grandfather’s service, influenced her decision to enlist when most of her classmates at Lower Hutt’s Chilton St James School were university-bound.
“I had family connections to the Army and grew up hearing stories about it,” she said. “I also didn’t want to go to university and study not knowing what I wanted to do. I loved playing sport, loved being outside and I wanted to see the world, so what better way to do all that than in the Defence Force?”
Lieutenant Houpapa, who is based at Linton Military Camp in Manawatu, works in logistics and is studying for a Diploma in Business. She also hopes to extend her studies to learning Te Reo Māori.