Forever Remembered: Timor-Leste Roll of Honour

Although we often get visitors with personal connections to items on display, it is not often we get as close a personal connection as SSGT Fraser Stewart has with this Roll of Honour. Hung in Battalion Headquarters in East Timor before being donated to the Museum and put on display, he is the soldier that hand-painted the first names onto it in early 2001.

20+ years later SSGT Stewart was travelling through Waiouru with his daughter Emily when she insisted they stop for a visit. Emily’s friend had been through recently and raved about the exhibits, so she did not want to miss this opportunity to visit herself. As they passed through the displays that tell the stories of the NZ Army in more modern times, SSGT Stewart was taken aback to come face-to-face with the Roll of Honour he helped create. The feelings were confusing – a mix of surprise, pride, sadness, and nostalgia – though he was overall “chuffed” to see it on display.

SSGT Stewart recalls that during his deployment in early 2001 to Timor-Leste (East Timor) on United Nations peacekeeping duties, he had been approached by the Regimental Sergeant Major of BATT III WO1 Bo Ngata to create a Roll of Honour to be ready for the Anzac Day dawn parade that same year in Suai. WO1 Ngata handed him the pre-shaped board, which he assumed was made by the Engineers at their portable sawmill, and in classic kiwi fashion, he “acquired and repurposed” paints from the RNZAF detachment and other mixed nations detachments based around the Suai area, and made his own paintbrushes for the finer lettering.

SSGT Stewart personally knew the first two soldiers, WO2 Tony Walser and SSGT William (Bill) White, and further researched the details of Pte Manning and Pte Jaisi (of the Nepalese Army). He recollects with a pained smile the challenges of finding a semblance of the Nepalese national flag (without Google) to be able to paint besides Pte Jaisi’s name. SSGT Stewart started it in January/February of 2001, and it was completed prior to SSGT Stewart’s departure on out-of-theatre leave in March.

Tragically, he had to add a new name upon his return to Timor-Leste. SSGT Stewart was in Dili waiting for transport back to his base in Suai when they were mobilised to help search for a missing soldier, Pte Boyd Atkins. He had gone missing from Hera Camp, an in-theatre leave site, and all available personnel were getting ready to search the surrounding area. While in Hera Camp awaiting orders to move out, SSGT Stewart recalls watching Portuguese Divers search the waters near the wharf, before finding Pte Atkins’ body in the water and assisting with the recovery. Solemnly, SSGT Stewart added Pte Atkins’ name to the Roll of Honour once he arrived back in Suai. It was the last SSGT Stewart had to do with the Roll of Honour prior to returning to New Zealand, with the following names and ribbon bar being added by other soldiers later on.

We are honoured to have this artefact on display, and knowing its history really highlights how these items are not just an item on display, but a “living” artefact with its own story to tell. We have added this information to the Roll of Honour’s archive-notes, in the hope that its story will remain for many years to come. Thank you SSGT Stewart for sharing your memories and recollections with us, and thank you Emily for insisting on the visit that brought this all to light.