The New Zealand Defence Force has begun repatriating the remains of personnel buried in Malaysia.
This is part of project Te Auraki (The Return), under which the NZDF is bringing home personnel and dependants buried overseas after 1 January, 1955, following a change in Government policy.
Between July and August, 28 NZDF personnel and one child will be exhumed from cemeteries in Malaysia and Singapore and returned to New Zealand as one group.
The personnel were serving in Vietnam and Malaysia when they died. Twenty-seven were New Zealand Army soldiers and one was a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Officer. A child belonging to a member of the New Zealand Army is also being disinterred.
The repatriation of 16 New Zealand Army personnel from Terendak Military Cemetery began today with a blessing ceremony. The short ceremony, led by kaumātua and an NZDF chaplain, was attended by delegates from New Zealand’s High Commission in Malaysia, the NZDF contingent and members of the Malaysian Armed Forces.
It’s the first in a series of ceremonies to be conducted as the remains of 27 NZDF personnel and one child are disinterred from Terendak Military Cemetery, Taiping Christian Cemetery and Cheras War Cemetery in Malaysia, plus one serviceman from Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore.
A disinterment team has been deployed, comprising bioarchaeologists and forensic anthropologists from New Zealand universities and NZDF odontologists (dentists), who will assist with the identification of remains. The team will be led by an NZDF doctor.
Te Auraki project manager Group Captain Carl Nixon said the NZDF was committed to making the project as dignified and respectful as possible for the families of those being repatriated.
“This project is about rectifying the inequalities and inconsistencies of the past, so we will be treating everyone the same, regardless of wealth, rank or cause of death,” Group Captain Nixon said.
“We are grateful to the governments of Malaysia and Singapore and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for looking after the resting places of our people for more than 60 years, but it is now time for them to be returned home to their families in New Zealand.
“We would also like to thank the Malaysian Armed Forces for their logistic and forensic support for this project.”
Once the remains are identified, NZDF personnel will conduct a 24-hour vigil around the caskets, until they are returned to their families in New Zealand.
In August, the Malaysian Armed Forces will conduct a departure ceremony in Kuala Lumpur to honour the contribution of NZDF personnel to the formation of the Federation of Malaya.
“We recognise the repatriation of New Zealand Servicemen holds special significance to the people of Malaysia, as these men lost their lives in defence of Malaya,” Group Captain Nixon said. “Their sacrifice underpins New Zealand’s longstanding relationship with Malaysia and the Five Power Defence Arrangements.”
The fallen personnel are due to be returned to New Zealand on August 21 and handed to their families at a ramp ceremony at Auckland International Airport, using the NZDF’s contemporary cultural, religious and military protocols.