The service men and women’s graves at the Archer St Cemetery in Masterton. PHOTOS/HAYLEY GASTMEIER
‘Everybody here served and deserves respect’
The graves of thousands of servicemen and women are dotted around Aotearoa, but after more than 100 years, many have lost their shine and are covered in a thick coat of lichen.
Soldiers, airmen, sailors, nurses, and servicewomen who fought or contributed in some way to the New Zealand we live in today are buried under these headstones and plaques.
And the efforts of these people have not been forgotten.
Groups of volunteers nationwide are working with the New Zealand Remembrance Army to restore these graves.
Now the search is on for the families of 17 servicemen buried in Masterton’s Archer St Cemetery.
Jack Hayes is the Wairarapa co-ordinator of the New Zealand Remembrance Army who has been leading working bees to clean the service headstones on site.
Since October, he and about 25 other volunteers have polished, tidied, and in some instances repainted, the graves of 700 people.
“We are making very good progress, with more public working bees planned through to the end of March.
“This is to meet the deadline for a public re-blessing of the site, with all the work [due to be] completed prior to Anzac Day.”
Jack said among the 200 graves left to refurbish, there were 17 bronze plaques with names he could find no local connections to.
These are located in the ashes area at the rear of the main services cemetery.
“The council records for this area are all very old and we have failed so far to find any next of kin for this group of servicemen and widows in the Masterton area.
“We want to renovate these 17 bronze headstones – some are in excellent condition and a wash has been all that is required, while others are in very poor condition and need repainting.
“We would like to have those families involved in the decision on whether to renovate or not – if we can find them.”
The plaques show that three of the servicemen received gallantry awards.
Records say Lance Corporal Arthur Otto von Keisenberg was awarded the Military Medal “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty” in World War I.
“This [non-commissioned officer] although exhausted with long and heavy carrying work acted with consistent and untiring energy.”
Company Sergeant Major Herbert Nuttall received the Meritorious Service Medal “in recognition of valuable services rendered in connection with the war” [WWI].
Captain [Temp Major] Raymond Charles Hollis received the award of the Military Cross for service in WWII.
“Maj Hollis has shown outstanding leadership and quick appreciation of difficult situations,” records state.
While the maintenance of cemetery grounds is the duty of councils, the upkeep of gravesites is the responsibility of family members to the deceased.
Jack said cleaning a headstone was relatively simple, and a good renovation would last up to 20 years.
Techniques varied depending on the materials, but as a rule a headstone was sprayed with Bio-Shield, then scrubbed, and then lettering was touched up with paint if required.
Jack said so far the New Zealand Remembrance Army had restored about 8000 graves nationwide.
“We’re really enjoying it,” he said.
“We have everybody from school kids to local cadets, teenagers, young mums coming to do it. But what we’d really like is families to get involved.”
He said Masterton kaumatua Nelson Rangi last year lifted the tapu over the Archer St services cemetery to respectfully enable the restoration works to take place.
“Every time we have a working bee we start with a health and safety briefing and a karakia to open and close … everybody here served and deserves that respect.”
Volunteer teams have also been restoring service graves at Greytown, Martinborough, Carterton, and Featherston cemeteries.
After the work at Archer St cemetery is complete, the working bees will move to the services area at Riverside Cemetery.
Cemeteries at Eketahuna, Pahiatua, and Mangatainoka would follow.
Up until last week, Jack’s list of 17 names was a list of 18 names.
While at Archer St cemetery, Michael and Elspeth Robinson, a couple from Te Aroha, crossed Jack’s path as they were searching for the grave of Michael’s stepfather, ‘Sandy’ Robinson.
It turned out that Sandy, or Alexander Wirgman Robinson, was on Jack’s list of mystery men.
The couple, who were in Masterton with time constraints, were thrilled to hear that Sandy’s grave would be cleaned up.
If anyone has any information on the men listed, or wants more information on grave restorations, contact Jack at email@example.com
Do you have links to any of these people?
No Name Surname Service Theatre DOB DOD
286903 Leon Cecil Reid CRADDOCK NZ Arty 2NZEF 27.10.1917 5.10.1985
442671 Leonard James CORLETT NZ Inf 2NZEF 20.4.1923 28.6.1985
32046 Maurice Charles HOLLAND Unknown 2NZEF 5.8.1911 2.5.1990
82103 Leslie Arthur CROTON NZAC 2NZEF 30.11.1910 1.4.1982
(Widow) Doris CROTON 30.7.1994
431985 Alan Gordon EARL RNZAF 2NZEF 30.6.1922 28.8.1982
(Widow) Molly EARL 31.5.2012
239973 John McGowan ALEXANDER NZ Inf. 2NZEF 15.8.1920 16.1.1983
(Widow) Alison ALEXANDER 7.5.2005
570748 William K JENNENS RAF tba tba 22.3.1982
(Widow) Audrey DB JENNENS 29.10.2007
1/8 Arthur Otto von KEISENBERG MM#NZ 1NZEF tba 7.3.1984
Machine Gun Corps
23250 Raymond Arthur HOLLIS MC NZ Arty 2 NZEF 12.3.1910 17.2.1984
28628 Herbert NUTTALL MSM# 1 NZEF tba 10.5.1985
(Widow) Millicent L NUTTALL 13.6.1983
65473 Herbert SUMMERS NZRB 1NZEF 24.5.1890 8.8.1985
(Widow) Teny V SUMMERS 19.6.1997
35755 William George CLOUT NZ Engrs 2NZEF 7.2.1916 14.11.1984
35820 John H JAMES 19 Bn 2NZEF 19.11.1913 30.12.2000
9569 John Strachey HARPER NZAC 2NZEF 16.3.1911 25.6.1986
(Widow) Patricia HARPER 23.10.1988
421001 Geoffrey Forbes BALE RNZAF 2NZEF 30.9.1923 12.3.1982
(Widow) Prudence BALE 28.6.1990
229464 Robert Wilfred LEE NZ Inf. 2NZEF 24.6.1921 11.9.1986
(Widow) Freda LEE 15.6.2007
1/118 Frank HEY Samoa 1NZEF tba 6.1.1977
(Widow) Lela M HEY 15.11.1969