Topic: Soldiers' gravestones repaired in Tauranga

Topic type:

Tauranga history enthusiasts Heather McLean and Fiona Kean discovered damaged headstones at Tauranga Cemeteries early in 2014. In May 2014 Heather started a fundraising venture, eventually raising $1,150 which has been enough to refurbish three local war graves. The work was completed in November 2014.

In early 2014 Heather McLean and Fiona Kean discovered that the headstones of two veterans' were in need of attention. Heather launched a fundraising appeal with support from the WW100 Tauranga committee. Funds were received from the Tauranga Genealogical Society, Tauranga Historical Society, Mount Maunganui RSA, Te Puke Genealogy Society as well as from private donations.

The soldiers' details along with a cheque were sent to Veteran's Affairs in July of 2014. The organisation is responsible for war graves in New Zealand.

World War One

One headstone was broken and the soldier's details missing. It belonged to World War I Canterbury Mounted Rifles Trooper Robert Barnett Brunner Cooper. He was born in Dobson, a small town on the banks of the Grey River in the South Island, on 14 February 1893 (reg. 1893/3609). His parents were Frederick Felix Paul and Annie Ewart Cooper (nee Barnett) who married on 12 October 1892 (reg. 1892/3348).

Robert worked underground as a coal miner. He enlisted in the Canterbury Regiment and served during World War I, embarking on 17 April 1915. His personnel file records his religion as 'free thinker'. Robert seems to have suffered a hernia before being discharged in 1916 on 'account of illness contracted on active service'. On 14 December 1919 in Wellington he married Myrtle McKay (reg. 1919/8357). The couple raised two children. Robert died in at Tauranga Public Hospital, aged 70, on 16 August 1963 (reg. 1963/26995). He was buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery on 18th Avenue (Section L, Row 33, Plot 60).

Another unmarked World War I grave was also honoured. It belonged to Pioneer Battalion veteran Private Pani Retimana. He was born at Omaio near Opotiki on 19 September 1897 [he may have been born in 1900 and put his age up in order to enlist]. His parents were Waiotaki and Tukahua Retimana. Waiotaki was born at Omaio, Tukahua at Te Araroa.

A few years ago Heather had been contacted by descendants of Pani looking for his grave. He was incorrectly recorded as 'Pam (Bonney) Richmond' but Heather managed to track down his true identity. He was always known to family and friends as Barney.

Pani had been in the School Cadets. He was a drover and a bushman at Cape Runaway when he signed up for World War I on his twentieth birthday, 19 September 1917. His contact person was his uncle, Hoani Retimana of Raukokore, Cape Runaway. In 1919 Pani was discharged as being 'no longer physically fit for war service' due to 'an old injury'. This dated from 1914 when he had been thrown from a horse, injuring his right elbow which was the cause of his discharge on medical grounds. After the war he moved back to OmaioOn 25 December 1922 he married Huhana Akuhata (reg. 1922/280). Pani died at Mount Maunganui on 25 February 1948. He was buried in the Catholic Cemetery on corner of Fraser Street and 18th Avenue on 26 February 1948 (Section 40, Row 2, Plot 34). His unmarked grave was simply grassed over until 2014 when a plaque was installed. 

World War Two

The bronze plaque from a World War Two veteran's grave was missing, possibly taken for its scrap value. It marked the final resting place of 25th Battalion veteran Private Lewis Jones. He was born in Turakina in c1913 to Peter and Maria Jones (nee Abraham). Lewis enlisted in Taupiri and is thought to have been a bushman with Maori ancestry. There is no record of him ever marrying. He died at Tauranga Hospital, aged 52, on 15 November 1965 (reg. 1965/44778). He was buried in the Catholic Cemetery on corner of Fraser Street and 18th Avenue (Section 40, Row 3, Plot 1A).

by Debbie McCauley (2014).


Births, Deaths & Marriages Online (New Zealand)

Cenotaph Record (Robert Barnett Cooper)

Cenotaph Record (Pani Retimana)

Death Certificate (Robert Barnett Cooper)

Death Certificate (Lewis Jones)

Death Certificate (Pani Retimana)

Heather McLean (personal communication, 2014)

Military Personnel File (Robert Barnett Cooper)

Military personnel file (Pani Retimana)

Tauranga Cemetery Records Online


How to cite this page: McCauley, Debbie (2014). Soldiers' gravestones repaired in Tauranga. Retrieved from (Tauranga Memories, last updated: *insert date*). In-text citation: (McCauley, 2014)

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion

Soldiers' gravestones repaired in Tauranga