By Linda Brasell of Port Waikato
Port Waikato has been the home of many Returned Servicemen since the 1930's. Sadly none of them are still here to tell their tales.
But Bill Follett (William Edward) is perhaps the returned serviceman best known by many of the Port locals. 'Service'man is an apt description of Bill, as he will be remembered for his 18 years of keeping the parks and facilities here in the Port clean and tidy; always taking a huge pride in the Port.
Bill served with the Maori Battalion in Italy and Egypt, after signing up 'several times' in various places across the country. He explained that his auntie kept tearing up his enlistment papers before finally conceding that 19 year old Bill was determined to go overseas anyway. He served with the A Company, known as the 'Gumdiggers.
The Maori Battalion's four rifle companies were organised along tribal lines, partly following the Maori parliamentary boundaries. Each had its own nickname reflecting the history and character of its main recruiting area. A Company was affectionately known as the 'Gumdiggers' due to the long history of gum-digging in the North.
During the First World War, five of Bill's uncles on his mother's side and four on his father's enlisted in the "Pioneers" - while all his mother's family survived, only one of his father's returned.
In 2005 Bill, who at 81, was given the honour representing the Maori Battalion A Company at the Gallipoli celebrations, to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the allied landing. The commemoration gave Bill the chance to take part in honouring the fallen in both wars.
Bill died in 2012, aged nearly 90 - having always had a great 'never-give-up' attitude to life. His family still live in the Port today, and can be justly proud of his long years of service to both his country and his community.