Government works to establish if Tarawa remains those of Coastwatchers

12 November 2010

New Zealand agencies are working together to determine whether recently discovered human remains found on Tarawa in Kiribati are those of New Zealanders executed during World War II.

A number of skeletal remains have recently been unearthed near where 17 New Zealand Coastwatchers were captured by Japanese forces and imprisoned in 1942.

Eyewitness accounts record the New Zealanders, plus three British and two Australian civilians, being executed on 15 October 1942 following an American air raid on Betio, but their bodies have never been found.

The Coastwatchers were reportedly buried during WWII and now the New Zealand Defence Force, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand have started the process to establish whether the recently discovered remains are those of the Coastwatchers.

“It is unfair to raise the hopes of family members and descendents that their loved ones have been found, when we still have some way to go in the process,” says Cdr Phil Bradshaw, Director of the Defence Communications Group.

Finding human remains on Tarawa is not uncommon, with over 4500 Japanese soldiers and Korean slave workers, and the bodies of around 400 US soldiers having never been recovered. In the past there have been numerous false leads as to where the Coastwatchers were buried.

If the remains are those of the Coastwatchers, internment at Bourail (New Zealand) War Cemetery, New Caledonia, where almost all the Second World War New Zealand casualties from the Pacific Theatre are buried or commemorated, will be considered. The 17 New Zealand Coastwatchers who died on Tarawa are officially commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at the Bourail War Cemetery in New Caledonia. Their names are also recorded on the Roll of Honour at the National War Memorial in Wellington.


For further information please contact Commander Phil Bradshaw 021 441 493.

This page was last reviewed on 17 January 2011.