The New Zealand Defence Force has begun repatriating two Royal New Zealand Navy sailors buried in England in the third tranche of project Te Auraki (The Return), under which the NZDF is bringing home personnel and dependants buried overseas after January 1955, following a change in government policy.
CAPTION: Warrant Officer Ken Bancroft who is leading the vigil team of Royal New Zealand Navy sailors in England, examines the headstone of Engine Room Artificer Apprentice Philip Short, 20, who was killed in a vehicle accident and buried in England in 1958. NZDF photo.
Between 1955 and 1971 NZDF personnel who died while serving abroad were buried in overseas cemeteries, unless their families paid repatriation costs.
A blessing ceremony was held at St Mary Cray Cemetery in Kent, ahead of the exhumation of engine-room artificer apprentice Philip Short, 20, who had just completed three years training at HMS Caledonia when he died in a vehicle accident in 1958.
Kaumātua and an NZDF chaplain led the ceremony at the grave sites, which included waiata and prayers.
Next week, another blessing ceremony will be held in Plymouth for leading engineering mechanic William Goodwin, 25, who was posted with HMNZS Bellona when he died following a head injury sustained playing rugby in 1956.
A disinterment team, led by an NZDF doctor, has been deployed, comprising bioarchaeologists, forensic anthropologists and NZDF odontologists (dentists) assisting with the identification of the remains.
Once the personnel have been identified, Royal New Zealand Navy personnel will conduct a continuous vigil around the caskets until the remains are handed over to their families in New Zealand.
The Goodwin and Short remains will be returned to their families at an arrival ceremony at Devonport Naval Base on 26 September.
Te Auraki (CONTACT magazine issue 59)