Tuesday, April 11, 2017

COMING HOME

The government has agreed to the recommendation of the Veteran's Advisory Board (VAB) that the nok of servicemen and dependents buried in Malaysia and Singapore between 1955 and 1971 be offered the opportunity of having the remains repatriated back to New Zealand and re-interred here at public expense.    The government has also directed the NZDF to look at extending the offer to the families of New Zealanders interred overseas in Fiji, American Samoa, Australia, the UK and Korea in military burials between 1955 and 1971.

This is the result of a public campaign by families (and especially the family of Trooper Adrian Thomas, NZSAS, KIA in Malaya in 1956) championed by the ex Sergeant Major of the Army (Bob Davies) and endorsed by Judith Collins.      It reverses long standing government policy which had been formally endorsed by Cabinet as late as 2007.

The report of the VAB is a substantial document.   You can access it here  The report highlights the inconsistencies that occurred during this period with some families offered the opportunity of repatriation at public expense; some being asked to contribute to the cost while other families were not given any say in the matter.    The report concluded that fairness and equity dictated their recommendations.

The report highlighted the lessons learned from the recent move by the Australians to repatriate thge remains of their Vietnam war dead buried in Singapore at the CWGC Cemetery at Kranji and in the British Military Cemetery at Terendak, Malaysia.

This will cost.   $750k has been set aside as an initial contribution to scope and plan the process.   Further funding will be required to see it through to completion.

The VAB declined to recommend the request by some families that the government should cover the cost of their travel to the place of interment so that they could accompany the bodies home.  Instead, families are to be offered the opportunity to participate in the 'Ramp Ceremonies' when the remains are returned to New Zealand.    

For some families this will put to rest a long standing grievance.   Other families will, I suspect, decline the offer taking the view that the remains should stay undisturbed.

For myself I am somewhat ambivalent about the decision.    I can acknowledge the fairness and equity argument particularly as it relates to those killed in the Vietnam conflict but I think the money could be better applied elsewhere supporting veterans and their families.   That aside, I congratulate the VAB on their report and the government for accepting it.

11 comments:

David said...

Got to agree with your conclusion. Far better to spend scarce dollars on the living than waste it on the dead. Bringing dead bodies back doesn't mean they are any less dead.

And while we're at it, it would be good to plan for fewer bodies by keeping out of meaningless wars with no clearly defined objective and no plan for the aftermath.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

David ignorantly paints this as all to do with the dead when, in fact, it is all to do with the living.

The most important point is that each family has a choice.

Noel said...

I think I may have some insight how some of the families feel.
But from reverse geography.
Six months into my first tour I was informed that my mother was very ill and they would attempt to get me home. That changed to been informed she had died.
The rest if the tour could be described as "in a fog".
On return home and eventually visiting the grave site a lot of the fog was lifted.

Adolf please don't make sensible posts like your 1.59PM.

Just returned home from some major surgery and nearly fell off the heavily padded chair/

David said...

The most important point is that each family has a choice.

I could agree Adolf, if only all the dead had a choice to die. Too many didn't.

And even today we have too many old men cheering on a warmonger who will cause many more deaths with nary a thought for the loved ones left behind.

Why is America so good at electing war mongering Presidents who shirked their own turn to die for a cause?

The Veteran said...

David ... off topic. Please don't threadjack.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Vet

Poor David gets overexcited now and again.

I may be wrong but I think all those who served overseas from 1955 to 1971 were volunteers, were they not? Of course, the thought of choosing to volunteer to serve one's country is foreign to those who make such a lot of noise about the subject.

They'd rather stay home and join a union to sabotage the war effort.

Anonymous said...

Veteran...this far exceeds the Australians remit and is fraught with difficulty, the likely cost is around $200,000 per set of remains. There will almost certainly be some who are not repatriated and left where they lie.

Trying to get access to CWG Cheras Rd for the removal of remains of those who died in the fifties will be a big call and once again there will be those whose links with the living will be impossible to trace.

Big can of worms if you will excuse the pun. All this merely demonstrates to the world what an inward looking people we have become. If I were a member of a family who paid to to have the remains repatriated in the 60's (+-$1800) I would be straight down to my lawyer looking for reimbursement plus interest.

Lord Egbut Nobacon

The Veteran said...

Egbut ... yes, this exceeds the Australian remit for the simple reason we are not Australia and yes. not all nok will exercise their right in this matter and that is to be expected.

$200k per body seems a tad extravagant but again, you could be right. I guess it depends on how the NZDF (as the lead agency) choose to charge off on their time and effort.

A small number of families may have paid to have bodies repatriated at the time. This was in accordance with the 1955 policy which provided for the option of repatriation with the nok contributing towards the cost but it appears the NZDF, in many instances, turned a Nelsons eye to seeking partial reimbursement. Whether those families have a claim against the Government for any monies paid is a moot point. It was done in accordance with the policy then in force.

I agree with the VAB that the policy was applied inconsistently. It appears some families were not even given the option.

Whatever the VAB came up with was bound to attract criticism. All I can say is that their report is detailed and has a certain logic to it. They were the body charged with making a recommendation to government and government (any government) would be hard pushed to door-stop their recommendations.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid like most of us all I have is an opinion and no influence. The reason and the agenda behind this has not been made plain but I expect to see some of the old faces in consultancy positions. Can you please explain the difference between a Vietnam veteran KIA being repatriated and a Borneo veteran killed in a motorcycle accident on the Malacca road not being repatriated.

After 50 years, and in the case of Trooper Thomas 70 years, this is starting to look political on several fronts.

Lord Egbut

Anonymous said...

Forget my last post.....just read the following https://www.beehive.govt.nz/sites/all/files/Consideration%20by%20Veterans%20Advisory%20Board%20of%20repatriation%20policy.pdf

This is like Brexit...so complex, sometimes deliberately so. that I suspect it will be many years if ever....12 eligible to be repatriated from the UK ...that is a shitstorm in waiting.

Lord Egbut

The Veteran said...

Egbut ... glad you read the document. There was a link to it in my post too. I agree is a complex matter and the report does not attempt to hide that. Given that and any recommendation made by the VAB was bound to attract criticism from some quarters.

For me and while I would have preferred the bodies remained undisturbed I can acknowledge the inconsistencies that occurred over the application of the 1955 policy leaving to a sense of grievance among some families.

My understanding is that a small number of families belonging to the phase 1 (Singapore/Malaysia) cohort have already indicated their intention to decline the offer. I suspect too the take-up in the phase 2 (other countries) cohort will be limited.

I take Noel's point. For some families this will mean closure. But it's taken a long time.