National | New Zealand Defence Force

First Battalion veterans reunite to honour fallen comrades

Twenty-eight veterans of the First Battalion New Zealand Regiment (1957-1959) have reunited in Rotorua to commemorate their fallen comrades whom they fought alongside in Malaya 60 years ago. An official memorial service took place at Muruika Soldiers' Cemetery in Ohinemutu.

The mood was sombre as they remembered their fallen peers.

Pere-Wihongi Paea (Uaua, Ngāpuhi) says, "It's good for everyone to catch up. There are many who have passed away. Many have become unwell. There's just a few who remain, but our bonds remain strong."

In April, the government offered to repatriate service personnel and dependents buried in Singapore and Malaysia. A move that is supported by these ex-servicemen.

Te Atawhai Apiata (Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Rahiri) says, "I want them all to be returned. All veterans who have passed away wars that took place in South Asia."

"This is good for the families. For me personally, it's not good to have your loved ones buried in another country. They need to be brought home," says Paea.

This day in 1957, 800 soldiers travelled to Malaysia to fight. The First Battalion has four soldiers buried in Malaysia's Taiping Cemetery. Two are Māori, Private Tukapa and Lance Corporal Percy Brown.

"He (Percy Brown) was a very good soldier. He was injured, but he never recovered from his injuries from the enemy. We were good instructing our young soldiers in what to do and how to protect them," says Apiata.

The New Zealand Defence Force are contacting the families to plan the repatriation of their loved ones.