23 April 2018
The repatriation of New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel buried around the world after 1 January 1955 began officially in Fiji today.
A blessing ceremony has been held at Suva Military Cemetery for Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Secretarial Officer Flight Lieutenant George Beban, MBE, and Fireman Leading Aircraftman Ralph Scott.
Flight Lieutenant Beban and Leading Aircraftman Scott died of natural causes, in 1956 and 1960 respectively, while based at the RNZAF station in Laucala Bay.
Kaumātua conducted appropriate karakia (prayer), mihimihi (acknowledgement), karanga (opening of the spiritual portal) and mōteatea (supporting laments), along with NZDF Maori cultural advisers. An NZDF military chaplain delivered a short message to acknowledge the lives and service of Flight Lieutenant Beban and Leading Aircraftman Scott.
The service was attended by an NZDF contingent, High Commissioner to Fiji Jonathan Curr and members of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.
Group Captain Carl Nixon, leading the project known as Te Auraki (The Return), said the NZDF was grateful to the Government of Fiji for agreeing to the dis-interments and for looking after the graves for many years.
“Today we have started the journey home for two airmen buried in Suva. They are two of 37 servicemen and dependants that we anticipate repatriating over the next six months as part of project Te Auraki,” Group Captain Nixon said.
“We are committed to ensuring this process is as dignified as possible for the families, which have waited many years for their loved ones to be brought home to New Zealand.”
A dis-interment team of bio-archaeologists, forensic anthropologists and NZDF odontologists (dentists) drawn from universities and forensic experts across New Zealand will now begin the exhumation and identification process. The team is being led by an NZDF doctor.
Once the remains have been identified, the service personnel being repatriated will never be left alone, with a continuous vigil by NZDF personnel until they are handed over to their families.
The Fiji dis-interments will be followed by a blessing ceremony in American Samoa for Royal New Zealand Navy Engineering Mechanic Russell Moore, who is being dis-interred from Satala Cemetery in Pago Pago on 1 May. Engineering Mechanic Moore died in an accident on the survey vessel HMNZS Lachlan in 1956.
The three fallen personnel are due to return to New Zealand on May 7, to be handed to their families at a ramp ceremony at Base Ohakea.
Biographies of NZDF personnel being repatriated from Fiji and American Samoa:
Flight Lieutenant George Thomas BEBAN, MBE, Administrative and Supply (Secretarial). George served in World War 2 as an RNZAF Medic and he was discharged at the conclusion of hostilities. He re-enlisted in 1948 as an RNZAF Secretarial Officer. In 1954 he was posted with his family to RNZAF Station Laucala Bay as the Senior Secretarial Officer and Press Liaison Officer. He died of natural causes, aged 40, on 31 August, 1956, in Fiji, and was buried in the Military Section of the Suva Cemetery.
Leading Aircraftman Ralph Henry SCOTT, Fireman. Ralph enlisted in the RNZAF as a Fireman on 27 December, 1956. He also served from 1952 to 1956 in the Royal Air Force as a fireman. After a period of basic training he was posted to RNZAF Base Ohakea as a fireman. In August 1960 he was posted to the firecrew at RNZAF Station Laucala Bay in Fiji. He died of natural causes, aged 28, on 15 October, 1960, and was buried in the Military Section of the Suva Cemetery.
Engineering Mechanic 1st Class Russell James Craig MOORE. Russell enlisted in the RNZN on 28 July, 1955. He was posted to the survey vessel HMNZS Lachlan and while on the ship in Pago Pago, American Samoa, he died in an accident on 9 July, 1956. He was buried in the Naval Section of Satala Cemetery, Pago Pago. He was 19.