33 Australians repatriated from ‘half way home’

Operation ReuniteRAAF Base Richmond was today the scene of the mass repatriation of 33 Australians, including 25 servicemen – 22 of whom were killed in the Vietnam War – and eight dependants.

Aircraft bearing the returning Australians from the Terendak Military Cemetery in Malaysia and the Kranji Cemetery in Singapore landed at RAAF Base Richmond in Sydney today at about 10.30am, after which  a military repatriation ceremony and a memorial service for families attended by His Excellency the Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, friends and former colleagues of the deceased was conducted.

Australian Defence Force personnel from Australia’s Federation Guard carried the coffins of the 33 Australians from two Royal Australian Air Force C-17A Globemasters.

Operation ReuniteDefence Minister Marise Payne said the repatriation would help bring closure to many families and to the country.

“For the families of those whose loved ones are returning to them and the veterans and mates who served alongside them, I hope today will bring some solace and closure,” Minister Payne said.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Dan Tehan said Australia owed the same debt to our Vietnam veterans as we owed to every Australian who fights in our name.

“I would like to take this opportunity to record my thanks and the gratitude of the Australian Government to the men and women who served our country in Vietnam,” Minister Tehan said.

Operation Reunite“As a country we could have done more to honour that debt to our Vietnam veterans and today’s repatriation is a chance to right that historical wrong.”

Of the 521 Australians who were killed in Vietnam or died of wounds sustained in the war, 496 were buried back home in Australia

But, 25 were buried ‘half-way home’ because the government of the day insisted that families should pay the cost of repatriation – and some couldn’t afford to.

Today’s repatriation – at government expense – is ultimately the result of a social-media campaign that collected more than 40,000 supporters.

 

 

The Social Media Campaign

“My mother never got closure for her little brother’s death. It ruined her life not being able to go and sit by a gravesite, that he was never honoured like other killed soldiers. Disgustingly, they’re still stuck half-way home. We just want Reg brought home.”

He was an Australian soldier killed in Vietnam – but our government has never repatriated Reg Hillier home. Shockingly, he’s among 25 soldiers killed in Vietnam who still remain in a lonely grave, half-way home.

521 Australian Vietnam Veterans were killed or died of wounds in the Vietnam War, 496 are buried back home in Australia, let’s bring the remaining 25 home, to Australia where they belong.

Relatives and the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia are asking for your help to finally right this wrong, and bring our mates home to be with us.

We’ve found out that for many of these soldiers, they weren’t brought home because their family couldn’t afford the huge costs of repatriation. It cost nearly half a year’s wage 500 pounds, at the time ($30,000 today). And they’d just lost their loved one.These Soldiers fought for their Country and made the Supreme Sacrifice and the Government of the Day wanted the NOK and Families to pay for their repatriation back to Australia.

These families had no choice, either pay up or be buried in Malaysia, this is a terrible way to treat bereaved families, and it caused further heartache as these relatives had the extra burden of that huge guilt of not being able to afford to bring their loved ones home. SHAME, SHAME, SHAME.
The first one killed in Vietnam, was WO2 William Hacking on the 1st June 1963, was brought home at Government (public) expense. The second was WO2 Kevin Conway killed 6th July 1964, was buried in a Cemetery in Siagon, then exhumed and removed to Ulu Pandan Cemetery in Singapore, then to allow for Singapores expansion was again exhumed and reburied in Kranji Cemetery Singapore.

This poor Vietnam Veteran has been exhumed twice and buried three times and is still not home.

It was just wrong. We’d never do this to our boys currently serving.

Keith Payne, VC, our living legend Vietnam Veteran has given his full support, saying “I agree with you, where the relatives want the bodies brought home – Bring the Bodies Home.”

For years, this injustice has been ignored. Last year, we were again given a clinical and heartless response from the government to our plea for our fellow soldiers to be brought home.

The Prime Minister can finally give these soldiers the dignity and honour they deserve, and lay them to rest here at home in Australia with the rest of our Vietnam war dead. He went to great lengths to bring home the victims of the recent Malaysia airlines downing – we just want the same respect given to our diggers.

Those soldiers buried in Malaysia, are NOT buried in a war grave but are buried in a General Christian Cemetery on a Military base in Malaysia.

It’s been the dying wish for many of our relatives, to Bring Them Home. It’s time for the government to have the heart to help us close this unfinished business for the NOK, widows, relatives, and veterans, and Bring Them Home.

I’ve waited for this moment for fifty years. It shouldn’t have taken a hard-fought campaign, 40,000 signatures on a petition and this much heart-ache. But today, a terrible wrong was finally righted.”

24 May 2015 — It’s finally going to happen. It’s with great emotion that I write to say that the Prime Minister has listened to our pleas – and the remaining bodies of our Vietnam veterans left half way home will finally come home for those relatives who wish for that to happen. Operation Bring Them Home has finally reached a huge milestone and success. I want to personally thank all 40,000 of you who signed our change.org petition. We know it had an impact on this decision. I’m in Canberra today to hear the Minister rise in parliament and offer their help – and this wouldn’t of happened without you. Our heartfelt thanks. There are many to thank, including A Current Affair for airing our stories and campaign, politicians across the board in the Northern Territory, Keith Payne our oldest living VC winner – and many, many more. I’m off to parliament now and I’ll update you again with some of the media with the announcement. Thank you, this is an emotional and incredible day. Bob Shewring. P.S. Please SHARE this update with the great news with friends and family on social media!

 

At the conclusion of today’s memorial service, 33 hearses bearing the returning Australians departed in convoy from RAAF Base Richmond.

The public was invited to view the procession and pay their respects along the route.

Reinterment services will take place in every State and Territory (except Tasmania) over the coming weeks, in accordance with the families’ wishes.

Mr Tehan said the Australian government last year made an offer of repatriation to 36 families of Australians buried and Terendak and Kranji.

“Several families made the decision not to bring their loved ones home, and I am sure Australians will respect that decision and appreciate it was not made lightly,” he said.

 

Australian Servicemen Repatriated

Private Norman George Allen

Private Gary Alan Archer

Lieutenant Robert Graham Birse

Corporal Robert Walker Bowtell

Lieutenant David John Brian

Sergeant Ronald Thomas Carroll

Private Thomas William Checkley

Private Christopher Clark

Warrant Officer Class Two Kevin George Conway

Private Ronald Eric Field

Warrant Officer Class Two John Garrigan

Warrant Officer Class Two Max Powell Hanley MM

Corporal Reginald Hedley Hillier

Trooper Tony Holland

Private Neville Wayne Horne

Second Lieutenant Alan Douglas Jellie

Signalman Kenneth Charles Johnson

Warrant Officer Class Two Ronald Victor Lees

Corporal John Gregory Stinson Pearce

Warrant Officer Class Two Thomas Dudley Phillips

Lance Corporal Thomas Ross

Lance Corporal Thomas Ruduss

Corporal Francis John Smith

Signalman John Darrell Tassell

Private Mervyn Arthur Frederick Wilson

 

NOTE:

  • of the 33 bodies brought home, only 25 were Service members
  • only 22 were Vietnam War casualties
  • 3 Vietnam War casualties were not brought home (because the families said no to the government’s offer)

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Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

8 thoughts on “33 Australians repatriated from ‘half way home’

  • 25/06/2018 at 1:28 pm
    Permalink

    The following three Servicemen who lost their lives during Confrontation were originally buried in Terendak War Cemetery in Malacca, Malaysia, and were repatriated to Australia on 2 June 2016 in Operation ‘Reunite’:
    213347 Signaller Kenneth Charles Johnson, 208th Signals Squadron (Commonwealth).
    42960 Private John Darrell Tassell, 208th Signals Squadron (Commonwealth).
    29720 Lieutenant David John Brian, 3RAR.
    Their names will be among those recited at a Malaya-Borneo Veterans Day Service of Commemoration to be held in Adelaide on 25 August 2018.
    Lest we Forget

    Reply
  • 25/06/2018 at 1:23 pm
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    To the best of my knowledge, the following eight Servicemen who lost their lives during Confrontation are still buried overseas:
    58702 Sapper Anthony John Colohan, 21 Construction Squadron, RAE
    Buried Kranji Military Cemetery, Singapore: plot 14, row D, grave 1.
    6363 WO2 Maxwell Clyde Hutchinson, 21 Construction Squadron, RAE.
    Buried Kranji Military Cemetery, Singapore: plot 11, row B, grave 4.
    1200029 Private Larry Richard Downes, 3RAR.
    Originally buried Ulu Pandan Military Cemetery, Singapore on 21 May 1965: plot 5, row B, grave 7.
    Relocated in 1975 to the Kranji Military Cemetery, Singapore: plot 14, row B, grave 13.
    13339 Private Francis Noel O’Sullivan, 3RAR.
    Buried in the Kuala Lumpur (Cheras Road) Civil Cemetery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: grave 38-M18.
    14982 Private John Wynne Jones, 4RAR.
    Buried Kranji Military Cemetery, Singapore: plot 11, row B, grave 9.
    215881 Private Liam Mallows O’Carroll, 4RAR.
    Buried Kranji Military Cemetery, Singapore: plot 14, row D, grave 2.
    342550 Corporal Peter John J West, 4RAR.
    Buried in the Kranji Military Cemetery, Singapore: plot 14, row D, grave 3.
    37562 Lance-Corporal Paul Harold Denehey, 1 SAS Company, Royal Australian Regiment.
    Buried Kranji Military Cemetery, Singapore: plot 11, row C, grave 15.

    In addition, the burial sites of the following two Servicemen are not known for certain; any information would be appreciated:
    61207 Sergeant Vincent Phillip Vella, 3RAR.
    ?? Originally buried at Ulu Pandan Military Cemetery, Singapore??
    Relocated to Australia and cremated?
    5976 Sergeant Reginald John Weiland, 3RAR.
    ??Originally buried at Ulu Pandan Military Cemetery, Singapore??
    Relocated to Australia and cremated?

    These names will be among those recited at a Malaya-Borneo Veterans Day Service of Commemoration to be held in Adelaide on 25 August 2018.

    Reply
  • 30/12/2016 at 7:11 pm
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    I stumbled upon this page in my search for family however I decided to read on and there’s a photo in this article that just blew me away. It’s of Soldiers and Military personnel carrying the caskets but the look on one man’s face says it all. My heart goes out to all whom have suffered the loss of loved ones through War and those still involved in War. Such a powerful image/photo and thank you.

    Reply
  • 08/08/2016 at 11:54 pm
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    It was bittersweet for our family to see the line of hearses (especially knowing some were not military personel) on the television as our brother Paul died during his service in Borneo in 1965. He was originally buried at Ulu Pandan and then in 1975 re-buried in Kranji Cemetary. My parents received a letter in 1975 with an offer to either relocate him to Kranji or repatriated him to Australia. The letter came from the UK and arrived after the response date. They were devastated to say the least.
    Since then our enquires and efforts to request his return to Australian soil have met with the stone walls of government. The last correspondence from them advised us to provide evidence of this letter. All of which is proving frustrating to say the least. It was 30 years (due to the secrecy act) until our parents found out the truth about our brothers death…by reading it in a book. All this adds salt to the wounds of grief, we know we are just like any other family loosing a family member before their time. We just want to bring him home to rest with our parents. Where he belongs.

    Reply
    • 26/06/2018 at 12:14 pm
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      Hi Sheriden
      Just thought I’d let you know, I am compiling a list of names to be recited at a Malaya-Borneo Veterans Day Service of Commemoration to be held in Adelaide on 25 August 2018. This will mark the 58th Anniversary of the end of the Malayan Emergency, and the 52nd anniversary of the Cease Fire and Declaration of the End of the Indonesian Confrontation with Malaysia.
      Even though your brother remains at rest overseas, he will be remembered here on 25 August.
      Paul

      Reply
  • 09/06/2016 at 2:25 pm
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    It is good to see that the initiative ” Bring them home” was successful, but I do question why deceased members who served in the Malayan Emergency 1948 to 1960 and the Indonesian Confrontation 1963 to 1966 remain buried in Malaysia.
    Emergency: 36 war dead – buried Kamunting Rd, Christian Cemetery Taiping, several buried at the Western Road Christian Cemetery – Penang, one at Terendak Military Cemetery and a number at Kranji War Cemetery Singapore.
    Of the Indonesian Confrontation : 17 are buried at Trendak War Cemetery and at Kranji War Cemetery Singapore.
    There are also dependants of Servicemen buried at the Malaysian Cemetries.
    Surely the families of these deceased should also be offered the option to bring them home.

    Reply
  • 09/06/2016 at 12:32 pm
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    Excuse my ignorance but why are the dead referred to as Veterans ? I would have thought they were Servicemen .Ie ” Of the 521 Vietnam Veterans who were Killed ” It doesn’t read or sound right. Am I missing something .I was to believe a Veteran was a returned serviceman .I do not wish to upset or disrespect the servicemen or the families they have had enough. It is a question only

    Reply
    • 09/06/2016 at 12:46 pm
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      Hi Simon. That’s not an unreasonable comment. I’ve edited the line.
      Brian Hartigan, Editor.

      Reply

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