Bodies may be lost Kiwis

Last updated 05:00 03/11/2013

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Villagers from a small island in the Solomons believe they have found three New Zealand bodies 70 years after the men were killed in a fierce World War II battle.

New Zealand Army Brigadier Timothy Gall accepted the remains last week as elders from the village of Falamai, population 1000, handed them over, having discovered them as they began building a new health clinic.

Locals treasure their links to this country and every year commemorate the Battle of Mono Island which, in 1943, was the scene of the first opposed amphibious landing by New Zealand forces since Gallipoli in 1915.

The islanders believe the bodies are New Zealanders because they were in an area that during the war was used to bury 39 New Zealanders killed taking and holding Mono as well as two Royal New Zealand Air Force pilots buried there in 1944.

In 1945, all 41 bodies from that cemetery were exhumed and moved to the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at Bourail in New Caledonia.

"There is a possibility that there were additional unrecorded burials on the island and this may account for the remains that were discovered earlier this year," the NZDF said.

But it said that at this point there were no known missing New Zealand remains from the Solomons campaign, and cautioned they might be Japanese or American.

Gall accepted the remains on behalf of all three nations.They will undergo forensic examination with the help of parties from all the nations. But it may never be known who the men are.

In the Pacific, the largest group of missing New Zealand remains are those of 17 coast-watchers executed by the Japanese on Tarawa in 1942.

Some of their remains may have been discovered two years ago and are still being tested by the Honolulu-based US Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.

At the ceremony on Mono last week, Gall thanked the Mono community for handing over the remains.

"We understand the spiritual and historic significance of your decision to release them to our care, and we hope that someday their identities will be known, their families informed and their remains laid to rest in a proper and fitting way."

Village leader Ruben Misi said the wartime events were a matter of pride for Mono people.

The Battle of Mono followed success by US Marines on Guadalcanal to the southeast.

New Zealanders from the 8th Brigade of the 3rd Division were used in a push up the archipelago aimed at taking Bougainville.

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- Sunday Star Times

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