The New Zealand Defence Force is set to repatriate the remains of service personnel who died overseas. The project, called Te Auraki, has started the process with the disinterment of two servicemen from a burial site in Fiji.    

Cultural advisor and warrant officer Patrick Smith says Māori customs are leading the return of New Zealanders remains from a military cemetery in Suva.

“Ko te mea nui ki a mātou, ko te kaupapa o te whānau. He whānau Pākehā ā rātou engari kei konei te kaupapa i a mātou, kia noho te humarietanga, kia tukua te mana ki te whānau i te wā ka tae atu ki Aotearoa.”

The two ex-soldiers of the New Zealand Airforce are two of the 37 military men and dependants that will be repatriated home this year.

According to Lieutenant Coronel Charmaine Tate, some of our country’s expert forensic scientists and dentists are leading the disinterment process, ensuring it is handled with great care.

“The process from here will be to dig down and expose the remains, lift them out of the ground, have them blessed before we do that, then we will spend some time doing the analysis of those remains.”

From here the team will go to Pagopago Island for one other military serviceman before returning home with the remains in just over a week.