Sir Robert 'Bom' Gillies, the last remaining member of the 28th Māori Battalion, has formally received his knighthood at Government House in Wellington, despite initially turning down the honour.
The 97-year-old received the New Zealand Order of Merit on Wednesday for his services to Māori and war commemoration.
Known as Koro Bom to many, he had been reluctant to accept the honour because of the way Māori had been treated by the Crown upon returning home to New Zealand from the war.
He ended up accepting it on behalf of his whānau and all who served in the Māori Battalion.
Sir Bom served in B Company during WWII from 1942-1945 across Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
“I accepted it on behalf of the 28th Māori Battalion and the Māori people because their effort during the war was absolutely wonderful, nobody else did any higher job.”
He has long called for the crown to apologise to Māori for the way they were treated post war, including being barred from establishments like hotels and other public facilities.
“We came home and we never received our medals when we were discharged, and not only that we weren’t allowed into the RSAs, they told us to leave and all that sort of thing.
“We’ve been downtrodden for a long time. We’ve got a long way now, and I think it’s about time.”
The 28th Māori Battalion was one of the most decorated infantry battalions in WWII, but more than 630 men never received their war medals, including Sir Bom.
Lawyer David Stone has since made it his mission to return the missing medals to whānau members of the soldiers who never received them - and thanks to his work, Sir Bom has since been given his.