For the families of 27 soldiers who finally returned home it was an emotional day.

Among them yesterday were troops from Hawke's Bay who died while in service in Malaya and Vietnam between 1955 and 1971 and had been buried in military cemeteries in Malaysia and Singapore.

Sergeant George Nepia, Private Jack Williams, Private Donald Frith and Private Bruce Hay were finally home.

They were welcomed home under sombre skies, but with clear joy in the air, and greeted with a traditional Maori welcome — their caskets carried past a guard of honour and passed to their families.

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The New Zealand Defence Force carries the casket of George Nepia who was amongst the returned 27 New Zealand Army soldiers and one buried child in Malaysia and Singapore. Photo / Greg Bowker
The New Zealand Defence Force carries the casket of George Nepia who was amongst the returned 27 New Zealand Army soldiers and one buried child in Malaysia and Singapore. Photo / Greg Bowker

The soldiers remains had been brought home aboard a specially chartered Air New Zealand 787 and the service was attended by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Defence Minister Ron Mark and several senior military personal.

The repatriation took the project name of Te Auraki (The Return) and was sparked in April 2017 after the Government extended an offer to families of service personal and dependants buried abroad since 1955 to repatriate them at public expense.

The announcement was gratefully received by their families.

The first repatriation was that of three service personnel from Fiji and American Samoa who were returned home in May.

Tuesday's arrival of 27 was the second stage, with two service personnel set to be returned from the UK in September and two from the Republic of Korea in October.

"We are committed to making sure that the repatriation is well managed and coordinated so the return of loved ones is conducted with respect and dignity," a New Zealand Defence Force spokesperson said.

A tangi has been held for Sergeant Nepia and he will be interred beside his parents at a service on Thursday.

The caskets of the returned soldiers are brought home. Photo / Greg Bowker
The caskets of the returned soldiers are brought home. Photo / Greg Bowker

A service of remembrance for Private Frith would also take place on Thursday, at the Wairoa War Memorial Hall where veterans of Victor 4 Company would join family members.

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A service is planned for Private Hay at the Club Hastings on August 31 and a special bronze plaque has been prepared for his gravesite.

There will be an unveiling of a plaque for Private Williams at CHB College, which he had attended, on Friday and he would be interred at his final resting place at Waipukurau Cemetery.