A Royal New Zealand Navy sailor and New Zealand Army soldier repatriated from Korea have been returned to their families at an arrival ceremony at RNZAF Base Auckland (Whenuapai).
The remains of Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) Telegraphist Peter James Mollison and New Zealand Army Driver Herbert Lester Humm were returned on a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Boeing 757 flight.
The fallen personnel were received with a traditional Maori welcome as their caskets were carried past a guard of honour and formally handed over to their relatives. An NZDF chaplain led a private family service, before an NZDF haka was performed as the hearses departed the base.
Telegraphist Mollison, 19, posted with HMNZS Royalist, died of an illness in 1957. Driver Humm, 24, with 10 Transport Company, Royal New Zealand Army Service Corps (RNZASC), died from injuries sustained in a vehicle crash in 1955.
Their repatriation is the conclusion of project Te Auraki (The Return), under which the NZDF brought home personnel and dependants buried overseas after January 1955, following a change in government policy. They are the last two of 35 returned under this project.
Between 1955 and 1971 NZDF personnel who died while serving abroad were buried in overseas cemeteries unless their families paid repatriation costs.
Te Auraki project manager RNZAF Group Captain Carl Nixon said it was important to return the remains of the fallen personnel in a dignified manner following NZDF’s contemporary cultural, religious and military protocols.
“Today we acknowledge the service of two servicemen who died serving their country overseas and bring them home to their families that have waited more than 60 years for this moment,” Group Captain Nixon said.
“This project is about making sure the inequalities and inconsistencies of the past are put right and everyone is treated the same, regardless of wealth, rank or cause of death.”
A disinterment team was deployed, comprising bioarchaeologists, forensic anthropologists and NZDF odontologists (dentists) assisting with the identification of the remains. The team was led by an NZDF doctor.
This follows the repatriation of three NZDF personnel from Fiji and American Samoa in May, 27 personnel and one dependant from Malaysia and Singapore in August, and two personnel from the United Kingdom at the end of September.
Group Captain Nixon thanked his team for their professionalism, integrity and hard work throughout the project.
“It’s the families in New Zealand we did this for and we worked hard to ensure the remains of their loved ones were brought home with the utmost care and dignity.”
Families will reinter their relative at a place and time of their choosing in New Zealand. The NZDF will not conduct military funerals because all of the deceased had military funerals before their interment.
Families will be offered NZDF support, such as chaplains, buglers and pall-bearers as required.
Remains will be reinterred at Service, public, or private cemeteries depending on family preferences and the Service person’s qualifying service. Memorials (headstones or plaques) will be provided and $1000 will be given towards a headstone for those who wish for their relative to be interred in a public/private cemetery.