It was wonderful to read in Saturday's Hawke's Bay Today that soldiers killed in Malaya and Vietnam are finally coming home.

The repatriation of their bodies will give many families closure and peace.

Included with our story, was a photograph of the telegram that Private Bruce Hay's family in Hastings received, telling them he had died in a road accident while serving in Malaya.

Private Hay was a dog handler with the NZ army and died in an accident on March 25, 1961. His family learned of his death through a telegram.


It is an impersonal, yet poignant piece of paper.

Everything the recipient needs to know is at the head of the slip of paper in bold capitals: OFFICERS, NCOS AND MEN KILLED IN ACTION.

There is a well-meant but impersonal final, pre-typed line that reads: THE PRIME MINISTER WISHES ME TO CONVEY TO YOU ON BEHALF OF THE GOVERNMENT DEEPEST SYMPATHY IN YOUR LOSS. It is signed by the Minister of Defence.

There is another pre-typed section (the sender would fill in the blanks): HAS BEEN KILLED IN ACTION/IN AN ACCIDENT.

Ask any police officer who has had to do a "death knock", there is no perfect way to tell someone they have lost a loved one, other than with sensitivity and compassion.

Yet there is little of that evident in the telegram. Death was an accepted risk for any man or woman entering conflict, serving their country.

Moments like the repatriation of the Malaya and Vietnam soldiers coming back to New Zealand give us cause to reflect on the sacrifice these New Zealanders made and our gratitude to them.

Particularly when we have a generation of young men, who enjoy freedom because of New Zealanders' sacrifices, who delight in "war games" where they are encouraged to stalk and kill fellow soldiers.


We should be thankful it is probably as close to war as they will ever come, but it doesn't hurt to remind them - perhaps show them the telegram published - that war means the loss of real lives, and not a 100-point bonus during an online game.