Gravesites reveal military history

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Service remembered . . . Members of the New Zealand Remembrance Army gather at the Southern Cemetery with white crosses to mark the graves of former service people. Pictured are (standing, from left) Owen Bennett, historian Peter Trevathan, 2/4 NZIR Warrant Officer Dion Beker, Christine George, James Sutherland, (front) and Laneene Rutherford. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

The extraordinary military history revealed through graves at Dunedin’s Southern Cemetery is highlighted in a project led by local members of the NZ Remembrance Army (NZRA).

Last weekend, a group of NZRA members and 42 Squadron Air Training Corps Dunedin cadets visited the cemetery to place 120 white crosses on the graves of people whose served in the armed forces – some dating back to the mid-19th century.

Among them were the graves of Duncan Gordon Boyes VC and John Bevin, whose military service dated back to the earlier days of the Dunedin settlement.

Born in the 1840s, Boyes was an ensign in the Royal Navy and won the Victoria Cross at the age of just 17 for heroic action during a battle in Japan in the 1860s.

Sadly, after arriving in New Zealand, Boyes became depressed and alcoholic, and eventually took his own life at the age of 22 years.

John Bevin survived both the Charge of the Light Brigade and Gettysburg and died in Dunedin in 1892 while on duty as a police sergeant.

NZ Remembrance Army Dunedin co-ordinator Laneene Rutherford said the group was “working hard to ensure that their service is remembered”.

“These white crosses will help to make it easy for people to find out about this beautiful place and all the remarkable history and stories that are here,” Ms Rutherford said.

The white crosses were sourced from among the hundreds of crosses that stood around the cenotaph at Queen’s Gardens during World War 1 centenary commemorations.

NZRA Dunedin member Owen Bennett has created labels for the crosses to mark the conflicts where those buried had served, including Crimea, the Boer War, the New Zealand wars of the 19th century, and the New Zealand Fencible conflict (1846-52).

Military historian Peter Trevathan said research had revealed many interesting stories among the graves, and these would eventually be gathered into a database the public could access.

“Our hope is to be able to create a website where families can go to find where their relatives are buried, and learn more about their stories,” Mr Trevathan said.

Anyone interested in learning more about the NZ Remembrance Army, or the Southern Cemetery project, is welcome to email nzradunedin@gmail.com