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Nourishing memories key on Anzac Day

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 25/04/2017 Angelo Risso

Moetu Parekura Nepia looks around at Anzac Day proceedings in Auckland and, in a tone barely above a whisper, speaks.

"There were only 50 of us left," Mr Nepia says.

"But today I haven't seen any of my mates."

A then-fresh-faced 21-year-old from the Waikato, Mr Nepia shipped off to the tropics to serve in the Malayan Emergency in 1957.

On his return, Anzac Day was an annual chance to catch up and trade old stories with the surviving members of his battalion.

That simple pleasure has become increasingly rare.

"They're down there," the olive-suited Mr Nepia said, jabbing a finger at the earth.

"I was one of the youngest. They're all too old - I think I'm lucky."

As the years pass and the histories of the Australian and Kiwi armed forces are studied in ever-greater detail, the sum of first-hand memories slips further and further away.

For John Richardson Jr, whose father served in Malaysia, Borneo, Vietnam and Sinai, extracting information was like pulling teeth.

Despite a full career in the Kiwi armed forces, Mr Richardson Sr struggled to talk about his experience of war with his nearest and dearest.

"He didn't say anything," Mr Richardson Jr said.

"I found it [all] out from his colleagues. He wouldn't say much with us."

Christopher Hawkins knows the feeling well, having lost his grandfather before they could speak about his World War II experiences in Italy and Egypt.

A member of the 28th Maori Battalion, Billy Hawkins confronted Rommel's Afrika Korps before working his way up the Italian peninsula.

It now rests upon his grandson to keep that history alive.

"Words can't describe what this day means to me and my family," the 27-year-old Mr Hawkins said.

"I wish every day I had the chance to talk with him."

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