Dunedin’s war graves are among more than 350,000 service graves across the country in line for restoration through the newly formed New Zealand Remembrance Army (NZRA).
A Dunedin branch of the national grass-roots volunteer organisation, led by former army major Simon Strombom, has been established with the aim of getting to work on sprucing up the city’s many war graves.
NZ Remembrance Army Dunedin co-ordinator Laneene Rutherford, a keen amateur historian, became interested after coming across the project on social media.
“At present, we are just starting out here in Dunedin, so we are looking for volunteers to help out with researching and tidying up graves,” Ms Rutherford said.
She has been consulting Dunedin RSA president Lox Kellas and local military historian Peter Trevathan on planning grave restoration projects.
“We will be respectful of families’ wishes, and will get their permission and input before going ahead with any work,” she said.
Founded last year, the NZRA aims to highlight the public misconception that there is a government agency responsible for maintaining war graves, and to help fill that gap.
Various agencies contribute to grave maintenance, but the responsibility for them remains largely with families and respective councils.
Maj Strombom said many families of the fallen had since moved on, and could no longer maintain the graves.
“The need for this work to be done now is beyond urgent,” he said.
The self-stated mission of the NZRA is to restore, record and maintain every service memorial in New Zealand – many of which are scattered through public cemeteries.
Long-term, the NZRA aims to become a charitable trust by 2020 to assist councils in maintaining service graves to a common standard.
With more than 2500 volunteers already signed up nationwide, and 30 regional co-ordinators appointed, the NZRA is off to a good start, but will require funding to reach its goals.
Nationally, the NZRA has worked collaboratively alongside the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RNZRSA) and Veterans Affairs to further the project.
Fundraising continues towards raising more than $250,000 for materials and resources for restoring graves.
Dunedin people who are interested in the work of the NZRA are welcome to make contact with Ms Rutherford by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting the group on Facebook.