Australia Repatriating Vietnam War Servicemen

Terendak Military Cemetery in Malaysia. (Australian War Memorial)
Terendak Military Cemetery in Malaysia. (Australian War Memorial)

Australia is repatriating fallen servicemen from Malaysia and Singapore in one of the largest such efforts in their history. A guard of honor and flag ceremony was held in Malaysia and then repeated in Singapore. Many of the servicemen were killed in the Vietnam War (1962-75). Dependents buried with the servicemen are being returned home as well.

Last year, the Australian government offered to retrieve the remains of 27 servicemen and 8 dependents from Terendak Military Cemetery in Malaysia along with an Australian interred in Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore. The offer was accepted by 33 of the families involved.

Australian soldiers who were killed in the Vietnam war prior to 1966 were buried overseas. The repatriation ensures all Australian soldiers who died in the Vietnam War will be treated equally. Families have been calling on the government to bring the remains of fallen servicemen home. Sara Ferguson, the widow of 3RAR Lieutenant David John Brian, was among them.

She visited the Terendak Military Cemetery in 2014 and was “absolutely devastated” by the experience. “The place was barren and desolate — there wasn’t a shrub, the grass was just about dead, there were weeds everywhere, and the gravestones were in disrepair … The hardest thing I have ever done in my life was to actually walk away and leave him again.”

With her husband, Major General David Ferguson, she began a campaign to repatriate soldiers interred overseas. They worked with veterans organizations to convince the government.

Mrs. Ferguson will be attending the Singapore ceremony with her late husband’s son David – Lt. Brian and his son never got the chance to meet. The remains will be returned to Australia aboard two C-17 Globemaster aircraft and will land at the RAAF base in Richmond, Sydney.

There will be a formal repatriation ceremony attended by veterans of the Vietnam War, some of whom served with the deceased. A private memorial service for the families will follow. Families are free to choose where they want their loved one interred.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE