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Vietnam veteran defends lashing Prime Minister John Key over inaction on fallen soldiers

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by August 20, 2016 General
Chris McKeen/Rob Kitchin

Repatriation of soldiers still hot topic

Vietnam veteran Bob Davies has defended his face-to-face criticism of John Key on war graves and hit-back against Key’s reaction.

On Thursday, veterans’ family and friends, plus dignitaries, including Key and Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee, attended the 50th anniversary of the battle of Long Tan at Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre.

There, Davies – the former highest-ranking enlisted New Zealand Army soldier – attacked the Key government’s refusal to repatriate 31 dead soldiers.

John Key said his government has received no advice supporting repatriating 31 soldier's bodies home.

CHRIS MCKEEN / FAIRFAX NZ

John Key said his government has received no advice supporting repatriating 31 soldier’s bodies home.

While no New Zealand soldiers died at Vietnam’s Long Tan battlefield, dozens of soldiers who died in other battles or performing other duties remain buried in non-Commonwealth war cemeteries in Vietnam or Malaysia.

READ MORE: Long lost soldier family’s plight

Retired NZ Army Sergeant Major Bob Davies lashed Prime Minister John Key over the government's inaction.

Retired NZ Army Sergeant Major Bob Davies lashed Prime Minister John Key over the government’s inaction.

In his Wellington speech, Davies said he was “bewildered” by successive government decisions, including  those of Key’s government, not to bring the buried soldiers home.

Immediately after Davies’ speech, Key said repatriating the remains of the fallen soldiers would prove difficult, and some families had accepted their loved ones would stay on foreign soil.

“The advice we have had is we shouldn’t change that policy. It’s not a straightforward issue, as I understand it.

Bob Davies, right, with NZ Army basic training buddies in 1965. Don Bensemann, left, was killed in Vietnam, Chris ...

Bob Davies, right, with NZ Army basic training buddies in 1965. Don Bensemann, left, was killed in Vietnam, Chris Robinson second left was killed in a peacetime army training accident.

“Successive governments have sought advice and there’s a mixture of views with the families, I don’t think [repatriation] is completely uniform and there’s a view from some that they should rest where they fell.”

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However, in 2015, the Australian government repatriated 33 soldiers from Terendak Military Cemetery in Malaysia and Kranji Cemetery in Singapore, with more reparations planned.

Given that, Davies questions Key’s response.

Post World War II, New Zealand soldiers have fought and died in overseas conflicts including several in South East Asia.

Post World War II, New Zealand soldiers have fought and died in overseas conflicts including several in South East Asia.

“The prime minister says it’s complicated, well, what are the complications? It can’t be all that complicated [if] the Australians did it.”

Eighteen Australians died at Long Tan in 1966, but pinpoint New Zealand artillery saved dozens more from being overwhelmed by 2000 Viet Cong fighters.

Davies said he’s received nothing but support on social media for his speech at the otherwise solemn occasion, and hasn’t received any criticism.

NZSAS Trooper Adrian Raymond Thomas who was killed in the 'Malaya Emergency' in 1956 remains buried in a Kuala Lumpur ...

NZSAS Trooper Adrian Raymond Thomas who was killed in the ‘Malaya Emergency’ in 1956 remains buried in a Kuala Lumpur cemetery.

“Some in government thought that this was not an appropriate topic for commemorations. My answer would be: if this is not an appropriate topic, then you need to revisit what the hell the day is all about.”

Up until 1967, the New Zealand government didn’t repatriate soldiers who died overseas.

Post-1967, soldiers’ families could have their loved ones brought home, provided they contributed $1000 – a considerable sum in the 1960’s.

“Why doesn’t the National government just bite the bullet and get on with [repatriation], they were the buggers that sent us over there in the first place,” Davies said.

“It’s mystifying, it doesn’t really make sense.”

 – Stuff

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