Private Terence (Terry) Healey is finally back home in Foxton, where he was born and grew up.

He was one of many Kiwi soldiers who died in Asia in the 1950s and 60s while on active duty to have been brought home recently at the Government's expense.

Terence now rests in Foxton's cemetery beside his beloved grandparents who raised him. He was buried there last Friday surrounded by his large extended family.

His coming home was a long, arduous and emotional journey for his whanau. "His homecoming has brought the family together," said his sister Tina Wynyard, one of Terry's six remaining siblings. She was 11 when she lost her big brother. "It was my mother's and my eldest sister's dearest wish. It is sad they did not live to see this day," she said.

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Terence died four weeks after his 21st birthday in a Singapore hospital. He had been transferred there after a motorbike crash. He was a pillion passenger and was seriously injured. A fellow passenger and mate walked away with a few scratches. They were stationed at Terendak Camp in Malacca at the time. He had joined the army the day before he turned 20 and went to Malaysia two weeks before his 21st birthday.

"He spent a month in hospital and the army thought he would benefit from having his mum with him, so they flew mum over at the army's expense. It must have been a mind-boggling experience for her.

"It also meant leaving her other nine kids back home. He was in a really bad way and in the end a kidney problem followed by septicemia killed him. He was a lovely brother and all my nieces and nephews grew up hearing great stories about him from their parents. He always did things with and for others," said Tina. She remembers him as a "cool dude". "He loved Elvis, cars and big machinery."

Terence worked in a machine shop in Foxton after school and then worked at Auckland's Mangere Airport as it was undergoing a big expansion in the early 60s. "When that job was done he and many of the guys who had worked at the airport signed up for the army in 1964."

"On July 4 this year his body was lifted from his grave in Singapore and until he came home there was someone from his battalion with him 24/7, holding a vigil. Once he got home the family took over."

Tina said her eldest sister had petitioned to have Terence brought home soon after he died, but that wasn't done in those days. "We were able to visit his grave one year. It had been looked after beautifully." The whole process of getting him home has been handled "really well" by the army she said. "Each family had their own liaison officer. We had Major Ken Coombes, who was absolutely wonderful.

"He passed information down to us, asked us what and how we wanted things done and offered a bugler and pall bearers for the interment. Of course, we said yes to that. The local funeral home, Anderson's, were wonderful too," she said.

Private Terence James Healey is laid to rest in Foxton. Photo / Darryl Butler
Private Terence James Healey is laid to rest in Foxton. Photo / Darryl Butler

About 200 people attended the celebration of Terence's life and witnessed his coffin being placed in what will be his final resting place.

"The District Council went out of their way to accommodate us. "They gave special dispensation and did everything possible to create a plot for Terry, so he could lie right beside his grandparents. They also donated the plot."

The 10 Healey siblings were all born in Foxton, but also lived in Himatangi later. Terence spent a lot of time with his grandparents in Foxton. "That's why I had no hesitation in bringing him back to Foxton," said Tina.

When the government said it was prepared to repatriate fallen soldiers who had been buried overseas, Tina said she got in touch pretty quickly.

"My eldest sister had been their contact person and they had lost contact with us after she died. So many of us, including 16 cousins travelled down from Auckland to be here for his return. They'd heard of Terence from their parents, a guy who made everyone feel special.

"This has brought our family, many of whom live far and wide, much closer together. We will be planning a reunion in 2020. We also got Terence's medals. I'll be wearing those next Anzac Day in Foxton," said Tina.

Members of the New Zealand Defence Force carry the casket of Neil Richards, who was amongst the returned remains of 27 New Zealand Army soldiers and one buried child in Malaysia and Singapore.
Members of the New Zealand Defence Force carry the casket of Neil Richards, who was amongst the returned remains of 27 New Zealand Army soldiers and one buried child in Malaysia and Singapore.

Last week the remains of 27 soldiers who died overseas, including Terry Healey, were brought home aboard a specially chartered Air New Zealand 787. 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 first repatriation was that of three service personnel from Fiji and American Samoa who were returned home in May.

This month'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.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and defence minister Ron Mark joined hundreds of guests at Auckland International Airport. Photo / Greg Bowker
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and defence minister Ron Mark joined hundreds of guests at Auckland International Airport. Photo / Greg Bowker

Ron Mark apologised on Saturday on behalf of "all" New Zealand governments to the family of Vietnam soldier Private John "Jack" Stewart Williams, who was reburied in Waipukurau at the weekend after lying in a military grave in Malaysia for nearly 50 years.

Mark said he wanted to apologise not only on behalf of the current Labour-NZ First coalition Government, but all governments, for the wait of a nearly half a century for the body to be returned home.