Paul Thomas promised his mother he would bring home the body of her fallen soldier son. That vow launched an incredible 42-year battle with bureaucracy.
“I just threw my arms up in the air and I said no problem. I didn’t even know where I was going to start,” he told Māori Television’s Native Affairs.
“For a long time now, all I’ve wanted to do is honour my Mum in the best way and the biggest way possible.”
Last month, Mr Thomas finally fulfilled his promise. He not only succeeded in returning the remains of his brother, Adrian, but also led the repatriation for 26 other Kiwi servicemen and a baby to New Zealand.
He fought successive governments, appeared before select committees and travelled to Malaysia and London to convince Commonwealth heads that the remains of kiwis should come home.
“It is not until you have been lying on the ground that you find out how to stand up. I think this journey taught me how to stand up,” he said.
Mr Thomas’ brother, Adrian, died in Malaysia on 2 May 1956. He was one of eight brothers from the same whānau, including Paul, who served overseas.
“I’m the youngest. I’m the pōtiki of our whānau yet my Mum asked me to bring my brother home and I think to be asked ahead of all my tuakana and tuahine, to me that’s a gift.”
Mr Thomas shares for the first time his inspiring journey with Native Affairs tonight at 8pm, taking his brother home and the long-awaited conclusion at his mother’s graveside.