Family unable to repatriate soldier – remains not under headstone

By Talisa Kupenga

Twenty-eight servicemen and one child were to be repatriated from Malaysia and Singapore by Government next week but one family will not be welcoming their loved one home because his remains were not located under his headstone.

The family, which were informed Friday, did not want to be named and did not want to appear on camera today but a close friend told Te Kāea they are devastated and that the impact of the news is even more devastating with the realisation they've been visiting an empty grave in Kuala Lumpur for decades.

When asked by Te Kāea the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) would not confirm whether or not there were any remains in the Cheras Road grave but an NZDF spokesman did confirm that NZDF was unable to “disinter and repatriate” the individual.

“A dedicated liaison officer is supporting the family and our thoughts are with them as they process this disappointing news.

“The NZDF deployed an expert dis-interment team of bio-archaeologists, forensic anthropologists and NZDF forensic odontologists to ensure we have done our best to bring our people home.”

NZDF says it also consulted with New Zealand’s Chief Coroner and the protocols used to conduct the identification are consistent with the internationally accepted best practice relating to victim identification.

In an OIA provided to Te Kāea the individual is named by NZDF as one of three RNZAF aircrew involved in a plane crash in the jungle in Central Malaya in 1956, but it also says the bodies were recovered and reburied at Cheras Road Cemetery in 1958.

It also says that NZDF "cannot be absolutely certain that the remains in the different Cheras Road graves were those of the RNZAF crew named on the headstones" from this flight.

NZDF told Te Kāea the individual's remains were the only ones, of the three RNZAF airmen involved in the crash, on the list to be repatriated next week.

At this stage, the family would not travel to Auckland for the repatriation as planned and were taking time to come to terms with the sad news.

NZDF did not answer whether it would look to locate the remains of this fallen soldier but did say the headstone would remain at Cheras Road and the grave would continue to be cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Update: In an exclusive interview with Te Kāea, John Devescovi says he was hoping to repatriate his brother Tony, but was told last week he can't come home.