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Group battling to restore neglected war graves - 'We treat them as our own whānau'

An ambitious plan to restore neglected war graves throughout the country by the end of 2020 has been launched by a group of volunteers.

The New Zealand Remembrance Army estimates there are between 350-400,000 war graves scattered throughout public cemeteries.

National co-ordinator Simon Strombom said many of the graves had long been forgotten and urgently needed restoring.

"We have illustrations that the family has moved on and the graves are just in a terrible state and something needs to be done about the fact we need to have all the graves in New Zealand in a similar state like what the Commonwealth War Graves Commission does overseas," he said.

The army is setting up regional co-ordinators, with 21 established already.

Mr Strombom said the work involved identifying the grave sites and then bringing in volunteers to help clean them up and restore the gravestones.

"We restore them to the original condition."

The group tried hard to involve the family of the deceased, but this was not always possible," he said.

"The key maxim for us is we treat them as our own whānau.

"We look after our own."

Mr Strombom said it cost about $1 to do up a standard stone grave, but bronzes were about $10 a grave.

He said the group needed more volunteers across the country and sponsorship to help with costs.

"It is a huge opportunity for New Zealand corporates to come on board with funding to help us," he said.

Mr Strombom said the aim of having all of the graves restored by December 2020 was very ambitious but it could be done.

He said once the project was completed he would like to see a trust formed with the aim of continuing to maintain the war graves.

"So we never ever have this situation again where we are not looking after the history of New Zealand."

By Andrew McRae

rnz.co.nz

A before and after photo of a war grave restored by The New Zealand Remembrance Army.
A before and after photo of a war grave restored by The New Zealand Remembrance Army. Source: rnz.co.nz


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