17 Nov 2015

NZ soldiers to stay in Malaysian graves

6:04 pm on 17 November 2015

The government has decided against repatriating the bodies of 36 soldiers from civilian graves in Malaysia in a decision which has left many families bitterly disappointed.

Paul Thomas' brother Adrian Raymond Thomas, who was killed in action in 1956 while serving in the NZSAS in Malaya.

Paul Thomas' brother Adrian Raymond Thomas, who was killed in action in 1956 while serving in the NZSAS in Malaya. Photo: Supplied

The soldiers were killed in the Malayan Emergency and Vietnam War conflicts and Paul Thomas, the brother of one soldier, has been running a campaign to bring them all home.

Mr Thomas said he promised his mother before she died nearly 60 years ago he would bring her son home from war.

His campaign to repatriate his brother, Adrian, and 35 other soldiers hit a dead end today when Prime Minister John Key announced the government would not be bringing the men home.

Mr Thomas said he was devastated.

"These guys gave their lives. They paid the ultimate price and it doesn't appear to mean too much."

Grave of Trooper Adrian Raymond Thomas in Malaysia.

Grave of Trooper Adrian Raymond Thomas in Malaysia. Photo: New Zealand War Graves Trust

Mr Thomas, who visited his brother's grave site annually, said he was not resting easy; his grave lay next to a giant pillar holding a new modern railway system. Despite that, Mr Key had said he was satisfied the soldiers were being cared for.

"Most recently we asked Craig Foss, as the responsible minister, to come and just check the graveyards for himself to make sure that they are being maintained with dignity as we would expect," Mr Key said.

"The advice he's given me is that is the case and, on balance, I think that's the right position and it's the position that successive governments have made to leave people in these graveyards in Malaysia."

Australia planned to repatriate its soldiers from Malaysian civilian cemeteries but Mr Key said doing so created a number of issues.

"The problem is about the delicacy of exhuming someone from their graveyard, basically the wishes of others. It's one of those things that there's no perfectly right answer here."

Labour MP Phil Goff.

Labour MP Phil Goff. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

But Opposition MP Phil Goff said there was only one right thing to do: bring them home.

"The critical point is what the families themselves want. These are not national war memorials, they are not Commonwealth war cemeteries and the RSA, the Veteran's representatives, have themselves said that we should consider repatriation from these sites," he said.

"The delicacy, I'm afraid, is only in the mind of the prime minister."

Mr Thomas said he wanted to know what made the job of repatriating the soldiers so delicate.

"I'd really like to know what those complexities are. I'm a wee bit lost. These comments have been made but so far no one has backed up what these complexities are," he said.

Mr Thomas said he would not give up as his brother and the other fallen soldiers deserved more for the price they paid for their country.