Foxton locals on mission to clean war graves

A handful of Foxton locals are on a mission to find and clean war graves at their local cemetery. 

For some of the soldiers, it's been their final resting spot for 80 years. Their headstones are overgrown with moss, weathered by the sun and illegible.  

When Karen Adams saw former Defence Force colleague Simon Strombom's efforts to clean up graves around Porirua - she committed to doing the same. 

"I put out a notice on the local pages and also on Neighbourly... and these wonderful ladies and a few others turned up."

Now, the small group has cleaned up more than 50 gravesites themselves, most of which they've stumbled across outside the veterans' section. 

"We initially thought we were going up to the veterans' part, but then as I walked in I noticed some of the old gravestones that look like the ones overseas. You know? The ones with the cross and the fern," Ms Adams says.

Armed with flasks of hot tea, scones and a range of cleaning products, these women have no background in the military. 

Which is why this is more than just a cleaning service - it's a labour of love. 

Historian Leanne Hickman is determined to find information and a photo for every headstone they clean.

"Drawing out the information on their lives gives them an identity, but having a picture of them just takes it that next step. They're no longer just a gravestone, now they're a person."

Take Ralph W Cooke for example - a 21-year-old flight sergeant killed after being deployed to Italy in World War II. 

Ralph and his restored grave
Ralph and his restored grave


His body never returned home, but the place of remembrance he shares with his grandparents can now be read. 

Chrissie Brimelow says it took days to clean, but the result is well worth the time.

"There's no one here to look after their grave, except us, and it's an honour."

Painstaking but rewarding work for the volunteers to ensure those who served and died will be remembered.



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