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Uncovering history . . . Liz Shea at work uncovering the details on a gravestone in the Timaru Cemetery. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

by Claire Allison

Names of Timaru soldiers long lost to the ravages of nature and time are being uncovered thanks to the efforts of a group of locals.

While Anzac Day is a focus for remembering those who died while serving, members of the Timaru branch of the New Zealand Remembrance Army are working year-round to bring back the names of returned soldiers in the Timaru Cemetery.

The Remembrance Army is a trust set up for anybody who wants to play a role in protecting New Zealand military war graves and memorials.

Timaru group member Liz Shea said members mostly worked on the headstones of World War 1 soldiers, spraying the stones with a bio-shield product to remove lichen, giving them a good scrub and then repainting them to reveal the engraving beneath.

“A lot of them, you can’t even see the writing, and sometimes you can’t read it even after cleaning.”

Some of the men had died quite young, while others were much older, and in some cases it was likely there were no longer any family members living locally to look after the grave.

The local group started off quite large about a year ago, but was now a small group of dedicated people spending Saturday afternoons in the cemetery, Mrs Shea said.

So far, the group had painted 34 headstones of returned servicemen, sprayed 239 graves and cleaned 53, and there was another block of 10 to 20 headstones to do, Mrs Shea said.

“This includes graves where the boys are remembered on their parents’ graves, and not actually buried there.”

Last week, members attached 18 poppies to those gravestones in anticipation of Anzac Day.

Job well done .. Jill Pearce surveys her handiwork on a newly cleaned and painted headstone. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

The group had gained permission from the Timaru District Council before carrying out the work.

It is not involved in maintaining headstones in the RSA part of the cemetery, or graves tended by the Christchurch War Graves Commission.

Anyone wishing to become involved in the project can make contact by emailing nzratimaruarea@gmail.com.

Before .. The name of the soldier is almost impossible to read, although his widow’s details are legible below. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
After .. All is now clear after a bio-shield treatment, a scrub and paint to bring out the detail. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

 

Anzac Day

In Timaru, Anzac Day will be marked with a dawn service at the Cenotaph at 6am, followed by a small service at the Timaru Cemetery at 6.45am.

South Canterbury RSA president Grant Finlayson said the organisation had left it as late as possible to make a decision about services on the day.

The RSA had felt the dawn service was the most important one for veterans so decided to proceed with that, he said.

There will be no civic service in Timaru this year.