On a freezing, windy, raining Wellington day nearly 60 years ago the TSS Captain Cook departed with the last batch of troops to fight in the Malayan Emergency.

Today, a handful of those 216 soldiers returned to the capital, in similar weather, to witness the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the trip.

Max Daly said the march through Wellington on November 6, 1959 was "a shocker".

"You couldn't hear the bands, the wind was howling.

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"But it was quite an occasion."

Bob Ewing was 20-years-old at the time and the youngest soldier on board.

"I wasn't allowed to drink until we left town.

"I can remember the girls on the wharf singing You'll Never Find Another Wahine Like Me."

Both men said they had no idea what they were getting into - "it was a big adventure", Mr Ewing said.

Another veteran, Les Coutts said the worst thing about travelling on the Captain Cook was "they put ice in the beer to cool it down".

It took 19 days for the Captain Cook to reach Malaya, now Malaysia, and the men arrived to blistering heat and locals who did not want to speak with them.

The locals did not want to know the armed, white, Christian soldiers, Mr Daly said.

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"The only people that spoke to you were the taxi drivers, the prostitutes and the shopkeepers."

However, when he returned 50 years later, the attitudes had changed and the veterans were welcomed with open arms, he said.

The soldiers stayed in Malaya for two years conducting counter terrorist operations in the northern jungle areas of the States of Perak and Kelantan, south of Thailand's border.

Today's plaque commemorating the troops leaving for Malaya was unveiled at Frank Kitts Park by Veterans' Affairs Minister Craig Foss.

He said it was his "honour and privilege" to commemorate the service of the military personnel.

"The Government is committed to those who were prepared to put themselves in harms way with service to New Zealand."

Also at the unveiling today was the Malaysian High Commissioner Dato' Lim Kim Eng.