New Zealand war heroes in their 90s ended up paying to attend commemorations in Europe while the taxpayer funded the Defence Minister's luxury travel, personal assistant and top hotels.

The treatment of the veterans on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Crete shocked observers, who had expected to see them treated as the centrepiece of the New Zealand contingent.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp spent more than $26,000 on flights and top hotels for himself and a secretary, in luxurious suites overlooking the Bay of Chania.

But New Zealand's war heroes were forced to pay out of their own pockets, arrange their own itineraries and stay in modest accommodation, with just $2000 Government support - less than a return airfare.

Australian veterans were flown over by their Government and cared for by provided doctors. They stayed at the same upmarket lodgings as Australia's defence and government officials.

Crete veteran Malcolm Coughlan said he had travelled on his own savings, and the Government grant had covered about 15 per cent of his expenses. "I've been saving for years. But it was good just meeting the people again."

He had travelled with a daughter as his caregiver, and she made most of the arrangements, he said.

Another veteran, Arthur Midwood, 93, said he had gone fundraising to iwi groups to pay for his trip.

"I raised it through different subtribes all over the place," Mr Midwood said.

Australian documentary maker John Lewis, who accompanied his country's veterans, said he could not believe the difference in treatment.

"I couldn't actually believe what was happening. I don't understand how they could get away with it."

Mr Lewis said he had walked along the waterfront to find the New Zealand official party enjoying a lavish lunch on their own.

"There's nothing wrong with going out and having a nice lunch, but meanwhile all the vets were being left on their own to be organised by their families," he said.

"I thought the vets would have been the guests of honour. It was remarkably noticeable."

The Australian party had arranged everything for its veterans and their families to attend, and at ceremonies Australian officials stood behind the old troops, he said.

"All the focus was clearly on the veterans. Meanwhile, it seemed like the New Zealand top brass and minister were sitting safely in their seats and the New Zealand veterans had to make do."

Murray Hoare, who has arranged private veterans' trips to Crete, said the New Zealand veterans had not been treated with due respect.

He said the attitude of Australian officials towards their veterans was "whatever they want, our pleasure to provide".

"With New Zealanders there was just no recognition - no deference paid them for what they went through."

Dr Mapp said yesterday that his travel had been made on the standard basis of ministerial trips, staying at the same accommodation he had in 2001.

"I ensured that the veterans who travelled to the 70th anniversary had access to a government grant of up to $2000 each.

"This grant was additional to the grant of $2000 that was given to veterans for travel to attend the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Crete," Dr Mapp said.

"It is certainly true the celebration of the veterans was the centrepiece of all the commemorative events.

"All the veterans [New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom] were accorded the same treatment in Crete at all the events and functions."

Lap of luxury
Wayne Mapp: Villa Andromeda, Le Meridien (on Dubai stopover).
Australians: Hotel Kalliston.
NZ veterans: Hotel Samaria.

Taxpayer support
Wayne Mapp: $26,133.05.
Veterans: $2000.

Wayne Mapp: Private secretary - paid for by taxes.
Veterans: Family members or caregivers, paid for by savings or raised funds.