Spruce-up for military plots

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Air Training Corp cadet in training Lochlainn Hall (standing) and cadet Andy Armour put elbow grease to good use cleaning RSA service plot headstones at the Ashburton Cemetery, and below, with a clean and some paint, just like new.

 

By Toni Williams

Air Training Corp (ATC) cadets of 24 Squadron got some historical learnings at the Ashburton Cemetery this week, cleaning the headstones of deceased military personnel.

It was their final unit outing, with group activities put on hold until further notice because of Covid-19. Training moves into an online class forum.

Nine cadets, and their leaders, with scrubbing brushes and water buckets in hand, spent five hours at the cemetery on Sunday respectfully cleaning down and repainting faded inscriptions, some of which dated back to men who served during the Boer War in at the turn of the century.

There are others scattered around the cemetery who took up with the defence forces including the Royal Air Force, Imperial Forces and New Zealand Military Forces, doing roles such as field artillery, machine gun squadron, rifle brigade, electrical and mechanical engineers, drivers or medical corps, to name a few.

They came from around New Zealand, but also include internationals serving with the likes of Canada and Australian forces.

ATC unit commander Luke Sutton said the clean-up was part of the ATC’s 2020 Heritage Project but was also being done in association with the New Zealand Remembrance Army.

Cadets used BioShield product to remove stubborn lichen and moss, but mostly water and muscle power, before applying the paint.

Typically veterans’ headstones were placed into three types, with three bodies who looked after them; the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (for those who died in the two World Wars), Veterans Affairs (for those who died during service or near to service) and those in the Returned Services Association plots.

On average each headstone, with basic clean and paint, cost $2 to clean, but the newer-styled bronze headstones, needing added product to clean, were $10 each.

Mr Sutton said nationwide the army, which are all volunteers, were looking for sponsorship to keep the cleaning options operating.

He said any family members who knew of headstones, whether they were on farm land, or remote plots, which needed some attention could contact the RSA who would pass on the information.

While Ashburton’s Army cadets have in the past focused on war memorials around the district, the ATC cadets will focus on RSA headstones at the Ashburton Cemetery before looking at Rakaia, and Methven cemeteries at a later date.