The remains of New Zealand Defence Force personnel repatriated from Malaysia and Singapore have been returned to their families today during an emotional ceremony.
A total of 27 personnel and one child were exhumed as part of the NZDF Te Auraki project, under which NZDF personnel and dependents buried overseas after January 1, 1955 are being returned to Aotearoa following a change in government policy.
The personnel were serving in Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam when they died. The child was the son of a member of the NZ Army.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister for Veterans Ron Mark say they were honoured to be with the families of service personnel as they welcomed their loved ones home.
“Those repatriated today gave their lives serving for our nation, but due to a policy applied in an inconsistent and unfair way over many decades, were not returned home," says Ardern.
Most of those returned today were young men in their 20s when they died. Nine were killed in action during the Malayan Emergency or the Vietnam War.
“The other New Zealanders who have come home today lost their lives in accidents or through illness, and include Desmond Rogers, the infant son of a service person who was just three and a half months old," says the prime minister.
“The loss and grief of their loved ones were the same, no matter what the cause of their passing. Today we acknowledge their sacrifice and service."
Te Auraki project leader Group Captain Carl Nixon says the NZDF is committed to making the process as dignified as possible for the families of those being repatriated.
"We would like to thank Malaysia for the care and respect shown to our fallen personnel and for providing logistical and forensic support for this project.”
The repatriated personnel were returned on a chartered Air New Zealand flight and received a traditional Māori welcome before the caskets were carried past a guard of honour and handed back to their families.
The NZDF also performed a haka as the caskets departed following the ramp ceremony.
The ceremony followed the repatriation of three NZDF personnel from Fiji and American Samoa in May.