Paul Thomas fought successive governments and bureaucracy to bring the remains of fallen servicemen home from South East Asia.
But it was visiting other families of fallen soldiers that brought him to tears.
“I was expecting people to come out and give me a slap across the face and tell me to go on my way because they didn't want to go back and visit that part of their lives. But the opposite happened and then they'd tell me their sad stories. I’d drive down the road, stop and I would just have a cry,” he says.
Thomas fought for 42 years to bring home the remains of his SAS brother from Malaysia. He not only succeeded but led the repatriation for 26 other Kiwi servicemen and a baby to New Zealand last month.
It is a personal story of unwavering determination, including heading to London to find the CEO of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who had ignored his letters.
“The moment I showed my passport they knew who I was- ‘He’s not here, you’ll have to make an appointment to come back’. I said, 'well, I’m happy to stay here until he comes back'. So I went to sit down. They didn’t like that and then they decided to come clean and let me in to see the man himself. He was just next door.”
Thomas got the answer he needed – that war graves in South East Asia were not protected by Commonwealth rules and that remains, therefore, could be repatriated.
He shares his remarkable journey in a two-part exclusive with Māori Television’s Native Affairs tonight at 8pm.