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.