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Team needed to restore war graves

Tolaga Bay’s military cemetery is the best in the country since its restoration last month by New Zealand Remembrance Army volunteers, says former army major Simon Strombom.

A large team of Tolaga Bay volunteers joined the restoration effort and the Remembrance Army (NZRA) is seeking Gisborne volunteers to do the same to war graves at Taruheru, Makaraka and Manutuke cemeteries.

On completion of restoration of headstones, inscriptions and setting at Tolaga Bay, the NZRA left cleaning materials with the Gisborne RSA.

“They said they couldn’t get volunteers,” says Mr Strombom. “We’re quite stunned. We haven’t had that problem around the rest of the country.

“The RSA are our leaders in remembrance activities and this project is an excellent opportunity for community members to get involved and preserve our local military history.”

The war graves restoration project needs a local co-ordinator with the passion to rally volunteers to join the cause in Gisborne.

“I’m sure there are ex-soldiers or others who will hear the call to arms. “We need a core of about six people. They need to be dedicated. One person’s enthusiasm will drive a region.”

Amazing local history is often unearthed during a restoration effort, says Mr Strombom.

During a clean-up of war graves at Masterton Cemetery, NZRA volunteers uncovered the grave of a soldier by the name of Diamond who had been awarded the Victoria Cross — the highest award in the British honours system — three years after the award for gallantry “in the presence of the enemy” had been instigated in 1856.

Mr Strombom regards the neglect of New Zealand’s war graves a “national shame”.

The NZRA’s mission is to record, restore and maintain New Zealand’s war graves to the same standard or higher than those overseas.

“Padre Gray did an amazing job in Tolaga Bay. We want to roll this project out to other areas on the East Coast.”

Mr Strombom asks people to “like” the NZ Remembrance Army’s Facebook page and to join up.

PRESERVING MILITARY HISTORY: In advance of Anzac Day commemorations, volunteers from the New Zealand Remembrance Army and Uawa/Tolaga Bay prepare to restore headstones in the East Coast township’s military cemetery. The rejuvenated headstones and bronze plaques were unveiled as part of a rededication ceremony on Anzac Day. The New Zealand Remembrance Army’s (NZRA) mission is to record, restore and maintain New Zealand’s war graves to the same standard or higher than those overseas. “Whether it’s Flanders of Foxton, we don’t care,” says the NZRA. “We have a duty to recognise all service graves and not ignore the mates who came home.” Picture by Mark Peters