25 Apr 2017

Special Anzac Day for families after repatriation pledge

9:52 pm on 25 April 2017

Anzac Day this year has special meaning for the families of fallen New Zealand soliders who died overseas and were buried in Southeast Asia.

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

Adrian Raymond Thomas, who was killed in action in 1956 while serving in the NZSAS in Malaya, is one of those who will be repatriated. Photo: Supplied

Earlier this month, the government made a U-turn and promised to repatriate all 33 servicemen and their dependents buried in Singapore and Malaysia between 1955 and 1971.

The soldiers were killed mainly in the Malayan Emergency and Vietnam War conflicts and their families have been campaigning to have them brought home for decades.

Former soldier and New Zealand First MP Ron Mark was among those who fought to repatriate their bodies.

The process had taken far too long, but the decision had been a huge relief for families, he said.

"It puts to rest, the anger, the grief that these families have been living with for decades now.

"These servicemen and their family members were unique in the respect that they were not buried in Commonwealth war graves, [and] they did not endure the sanctity, the protection, that is accorded to all of other servicemen who are buried inside of Commonwealth graves, whose graves are looked after."

Mr Mark said several veterans had traveled back to Southeast Asia to pay their respects to the fallen soliders and their family members and were distraught to find the neglected state of their graves.

"The graves [of those buried in Commonwealth war graves] are respected, they're looked after," he said.

"There are regular Anzac Day and Armistice Day services at those locations - they are not forgotten.

"Our personnel did not enjoy that sort of protection - one is buried beside a motorway, one under a rail bridge... their graves are topped with rubbish, cans, plastic bottles; the gravesites are thoroughly neglected."

The soldiers would now be able to get the sanctity they deserved, Mr Mark said.

"[I would like] a special day laid aside to receive them and bring them home. A special day [for] particularly those who fought in the Malaysian conflict ... These men didn't get a welcome home and a parade."