Venus Poa loved singing with her tall, handsome son, Corporal Douglas Hughes.

They were karaoke stars, singing through Cruisin' in the hit duet style of Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow.

So Venus was delighted when she got a phone call from Afghanistan on her birthday late last month and 26-year-old Dougie wished her many happy returns.

"He said he would be home soon and I said I would be counting the days, as I couldn't wait to see him."


But Dougie came home in a box after dying mysteriously while off-duty at the Romero Forward Patrol Base in Bamyan province on April 3.

The cause of his death has not been disclosed and is being investigated by the Army.

"When I heard what had happened, I felt like my whole heart was ripped out," Ms Poa said.

Dougie was buried after a military funeral at Pakotai last Thursday. Stricken, but keeping the tears at bay, Ms Poa described the "hardest week of my life".

"I really miss him. I am still coming to terms with his death," she said. "I don't know how long the investigation [into the cause of death] will take. I won't settle until I have closure on that."

Ms Poa said Dougie was generous and affectionate. He had loved his family dearly and they had loved him. She recalled him eeling and camping as a youngster and growing into a leader in rugby, league and kapa haka.

He enjoyed life in the army, which he had joined aged 17, but he hadn't been keen to serve a second tour of duty in Afghanistan, which he started in September last year.

"He went because he had trained some boys who were going over there for the first time and he didn't want to let them down," Ms Poa said.


Asked how long the investigation into the cause of death could take, a Defence Force spokesman said: "Unfortunately, it simply is not possible to put a definitive timeframe on this process, which will include the collection of witness and expert medical testimony. The NZDF is also liaising closely with the coroner's office."

The spokesman said the Defence Force had been keeping in touch with Corporal Hughes' family and would keep them informed of progress.

Earlier, Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones would not be drawn on how Corporal Hughes had died, while an investigation was under way.

"The only issues that we can confirm at this stage - there was no hostile action, no operational incident that caused his death," he said.

At least one other person had been with Corporal Hughes when the incident occurred but General Jones would not reveal what they had said about the incident.