Tuesday, January 17, 2017

ON THE REPATRIATION ISSUE

You may be aware that some of the NOK of servicemen killed in the  Malaysian and Vietnam conflicts and buried in Malaysia/Singapore  have requested their remains be repatriated back to New Zealand.  

The long standing position of the Royal New Zealand Returned & Services Association was that there should be no repatriation however two years ago they changed their position and late last year Government referred the matter to the Veterans' Advisory Board (statutory body established to advise the Minister of Veterans' Affairs) for their investigation and recommendation.

Their graves are located in four locations: at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Kranji in Singapore; at the British Military Cemetery at Terendak Garrison, Melaka, Malaysia; at the Cheras War Cemetery (part of the Cheras Christian Cemetery) in Kuala Lumpur and in the Taiping (Kamunting Road) Christian Cemetery in Perak State.   The Kranji Cemetery is an official CWGC cemetery while the latter three are maintained by the CWGC.    Both the Kranji and Terendak sites are are immaculately maintained.   In KL and Taiping the military portions of the cemetery are well maintained, the adjacent civilian graves less so.

There is free access to the Kranji, KL and Taiping cemeteries.   The Terendak cemetery is located inside a Malaysian Army Garrison and you need permission to visit it.   There has been comment by some NOK that they found obtaining permission difficult.   That is not my experience.    When I, along with Mrs Veteran and a close friend ex 5RAR and his wife, applied to visit we found the process simple and straight forward.   On visit day we fronted up to the Main Gates along with our driver and handed over our passports.   We were given unrestricted access to the Camp (no escort).   We went everywhere, cemetery, beach club, old NAAFI area, our old battalion lines and the old Ladies Mess were our wives once lived.     Access should not be an issue.

I am ambivalent on the repatriation issue.    My gut feeling is that the bodies should remain where they have for the last half century.   Having said that I can  acknowledge the serenity and ambiance of the KL and Taiping cemeteries does not match that of Kranji and Terendak.    It would however not be fair to restrict repatriation to those two cemeteries alone.       One out ... all out.

Last year our Oz cousins completed a similar exercise with much pomp and ceremony.   They would acknowledge there were difficulties.     While there might have been neat markers above ground, below ground was a different story.   They are not exactly sure who they dug up ... indeed, there is an unconfirmed story doing the rounds that among those repatriated to Oz was the remains of a New Zealander.    If that is correct it is embarrassing.   Some families have requested full DNA testing to confirm identities but that could be opening a pandoras box.   Perfect reason to leave well alone.

I understand the TOR for the VAB includes reference to the possible repatriation of dependents.   I am completely opposed to that.   Serviceman only.   Any number of civilian New Zealanders die while overseas.   Many are buried overseas.    It is not the Government's responsibility to bring them 'home'.   I wish the VAB well in their deliberations.   They will need to exercise the judgement of Solomon.   Whatever they recommend; whatever the Government decides ... they're sure to upset someone.

For the avoidance of doubt I need to say that the repatriation of the remains of servicepeople buried in CWGC cemeteries prior to 1 January 1948 is prohibited according to the protocols of the Commission endorsed by the member countries which includes New Zealand.

 

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

The campaign for the exhumation of our war dead started with Cheras Rd Military Cemetery which is is the responsibility of the CWGC for maintenance and administration. It is a working cemetery in the middle of a huge Christian cemetery where many notable people from the Malay and Chinese Christian communities are buried, it is inviolate and under no threat from "development" or religious fundamentalists as has been intimated in this campaign which has been plagued by misinformation and exaggeration.
The recent construction of an elevated railway along the side of Cheras Rd is now complete and no part of the cemetery or it's boundary was interfered with. The British High Commission KL was kept in the loop during the planning stages and there was never any cause for concern by the Military attaché who visited the site several times. Whereas before the CWG were hidden behind shrubbery they can now be seen from the railway and children travelling to school may reflect on a part of their own history and the sacrifice of all races and cultures that have gone into the making of the modern Malay state. What does stand out is that the CWGC policy states that according to the Geneva convention the war dead shall not be disturbed unless there is an "overriding public necessity" NZ is signatory to this convention and I do not see an overriding public necessity as far as Cheras Rd is concerned. In 2010 and 2012 recently discovered RAF flight crew were buried with full military honours in ceremonies attended by representatives of the Malaysian armed forces and Government.

Terendak.
The British Military cemetery at Terandak, like cemeteries in other camps, is British land in perpetuity and under no threat of development. It is maintained by the British High Commission in KL who subcontract maintenance out. If there is complaint from a visitor about the standard of the site and found to have substance then appropriate action is taken against the subcontractor.

Anonymous said...

Access to Terendak....

I have visited Terendak three times since 1969 and never had a problem.The last time in 2006 when I arrived at Port Dickson from Singapore I made a phone call to the British High Commission KL for an appointment and it was arranged within three days. Where there are delays and some confusion the fault lies not with the Malaysian authorities or "high security" camps but with the lack of information by Veterans organisations and VANZ for not having an understandable policy. If you wish to visit do so through the British High Commission I believe that trying to do so through the NZ High commission can become quite involved and it would not surprise me if they also passed the requests on to the the British High Commission therefore creating an unnecessary link in the chain. Perhaps an arrangement could be made with the British High Commission in Wellington to make appointments through the KL office. There never has been single request declined since 1969 nor has there been any obstruction or obfuscation by the Malay authorities and to blame them for any of our shortcomings is unjust.

Unlike the British and Australian battalions who rotated through Terendak 1RNZIR was stationed there permanently. It is the battalions spiritual home, not Burnham. The Australian Vietnam dead were in the main nation servicemen in the army under duress and did not have the connection with Terendak as we did. We were professional soldiers and accepted the fact that we would be buried as near as possible to the place of our death.

To disturb and divide our Vietnam dead, which is what will happen, is an abomination. We already have one NOK who does not want his family member repatriated and there is the case of Private Hurman who was a British National and spent a very short time in NZ and whose NOK lives in the UK. It is far to late now to even consider such action as it makes us look isolationist and inward looking, the attitude of British ex servicemen who I know is bewilderment on why we should want to this and the Malaysians are aware that there is a religious aspect to this that is not of their making and powered by events in the Middle East.


All the parents of Vietnam veterans are now dead and we are dealing with siblings who were either born after the soldiers death or those who were very young and have little memory of the person...it's been nearly fifty years, which brings me to the point of what happens to the graves once they are scattered all over NZ and left to the mercies of local authorities parks and gardens subcontractors? Where are the guarantees that they will not be exhumed again to make way for a motorway as happened in Wellington?

The entire concept has had little research and is fundamentally ill conceived.

Lord Egbut Nobacon x2

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Excellent commentary, Legbut.

Anonymous said...

Adolph.....piss off, I don't need your approval, in fact it lowers my credibility. You removed my commentary from your ridiculous "pommie rogernomics" post.

Lord Egbut.

Noel said...

The parents are dead and the siblings are too young to remember. I believe brothers and sisters trumps your opinion.

Anonymous said...

Siblings = brothers and sisters, it's still fifty years to late and don't mention Trump to me.

The Veteran said...

Egbut ... thank you for your inpuit ... helpful. Couple of comments, The Cheras Road Cemetery is not a working cemetery. It had a capacity for 22,000 plots and was full by 2012 when it was closed off. I agree it is part of Malaysian history. The Military Cemetery is immediately adjacent to it and includes the grave of Sir Henry Gurney, British High Commissioner to Malaya (as it was then), killed by Communist terrorists in 1951. The two sets of flight crew you refer were from a RAF Dakota which crashed in Kelantan in 1950 and relocated from Gua Musang on 15 March 2012 and from a RAF Liberator which crashed in Negri Sembilan in 1945 and relocated from Kuala Pilah on 18 October 2012.

You refer to the CWGC protocol. It certainly applies in respect of Kranji which is an official CWGC cemetery. The Terendak, KL and Taiping cemeteries are not even though they are maintained by the Commission by arrangement.

I understand if the Government were to agree to repatriation that some families have requested that they should be allowed to go to Malaysia to accompany the bodies back per courtesy of the taxpayer. Stuff and nonsense. I have said I am ambivalent on the issue tending toward maintaining the status quo. However, if there is to be repatriation the bodies should be returned to NZL by the RNZAF and welcomed back here by the families in a 'Ramp Ceremony' as was accorded our fallen from Afghanistan.

Anonymous said...

Veteran... Cheras Rd CWG is still available for remains of servicemen found in the jungle or who were hastily buried in shallow graves much as the WW1 cemeteries in France are open for the newly found remains. I did make my point about Terendak being a BMT not CWG.

Once the TV cameras have gone and we are hakaed out the remains will scattered to the four corners of NZ and promptly forgotten.

The Australians went in to retrieve the remains of the Vietnam veterans, national servicemen mostly, and the Malayan dead were left. We, on the other hand started out with the Malayan dead and tacked on the Vietnam veterans almost as an after thought.

Quite simply Cheras Rd Kuala Lumpar is a CWGC cemetery and there is as much chance of them letting in a JCB as Trump has of becoming Secretary General of the UN.

Lord Egbut