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.