The service men and women’s graves at the Archer St Cemetery in Masterton. PHOTOS/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

‘Everybody here served and deserves respect’

Hayley Gastmeier

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.

Lichen which volunteers have been working to remove.

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.

Michael Robinson, centre, at his stepfather Sandy Robinson’s grave, with his wife Elspeth, and Jack Hayes, the NZ Remembrance Army Wairarapa co-ordinator.

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 jackhayes.hayes47@gmail.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
Charles

28628          Herbert                      NUTTALL                    MSM#                    1 NZEF           tba                 10.5.1985
Canterbury Regt
(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