The New Zealand Defence Force has begun repatriating two Royal New Zealand Navy sailors buried in England.
This is the third tranche of project Te Auraki (The Return), under which the NZDF is bringing home personnel and dependants buried overseas after January 1955, following a change in government policy.
A blessing ceremony has been held at St Mary Cray Cemetery in Kent, ahead of the exhumation of Engine Room Artificer Apprentice Philip Short, 20, who had just completed three years training at HMS Caledonia when he died in a vehicle accident in 1958.
Kaumātua and an NZDF chaplain led the ceremony at the grave sites, which included waiata and prayers.
Next week another blessing ceremony will be held in Plymouth for Leading Engineering Mechanic William Goodwin, 25, who was posted with HMNZS Bellona when he died following a head injury playing rugby in 1956.
Between 1955 and 1971 NZDF personnel who died while serving abroad were buried in overseas cemeteries, unless their families paid repatriation costs.
A disinterment team has been deployed, comprising bioarchaeologists, forensic anthropologists and NZDF odontologists (dentists) assisting with the identification of the remains. The team is being led by an NZDF doctor.
Once the personnel have been identified, Royal New Zealand Navy personnel will conduct a continuous vigil around the caskets until the remains are handed over to their families in New Zealand.
The remains of Leading Engineering Mechanic Goodwin and Engine Room Artificer Apprentice Short will be returned to their families at an arrival ceremony at Devonport Naval Base on 26 September.
The fallen personnel will be received with a traditional Maori welcome and the caskets will be carried past a guard of honour as they are formally handed over to their families. An NZDF chaplain will lead a private family service, before an NZDF haka is performed as the hearses depart the base.
This follows the repatriation of three NZDF personnel from Fiji and American Samoa in May, and 27 personnel and one dependant from Malaysia and Singapore in August.
Kaumātua and an NZDF chaplain led the ceremony at St Mary Cray Cemetery in Kent, ahead of the exhumation of Engine Room Artificer Apprentice Philip Short.