Patriots refreshing servicemen’s graves

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Production line... motorcycle club members take a break while restoring the dilapidated graves of former servicemen at the Mataura Cemetery. PHOTO: FIONA ELLIS

Phil Herriott has led a ride to the rescue in Mataura, despite those he aimed to help having died years before he arrived.

He was on a mission to restore dilapidated graves of fellow servicemen on Saturday and Sunday at the Mataura Cemetery.

The president of the Deep South chapter of the Patriots Defence Force Motorcycle Club was assisted by fellow club members, all of whom were former or current defence force members.

“They say service people die twice, once when they die and once when they are forgotten,” Mr Herriott said.

The club members were determined to keep the memory of Mataura’s servicemen alive.

“It resonates with us.

“It keeps the old military camaraderie going.”

They were following the restoration guidelines of the New Zealand Remembrance Army, who recently trained them in restoration techniques.

It was the older headstones that needed their attention, as many had not been tended for years.

“There’s a lot of people from World War 1, their graves are falling into disrepair.”

He estimated that together the group of about 16 people restored more than 20 graves.

“You get a bit of a production line going. It’s been a good day.”

He had a special reason for choosing Mataura cemetery for the club’s first restoration mission 1-veteran grandfather was buried there.

The Dunedin man felt a connection to the place his grandfather and mother had called home.

He had followed his grandfather’s path into the armed services, serving in the Navy for many years.

Giving the headstones a new lease of life was not difficult, although painting the letters into engraved stones required a deft hand.

“They’re basically a bit illegible .. you get lichen.”

Brass plaques, such as his grandfather’s, required a different treatment.

He would remove the patina and apply black paint to the plaque.

He would then sand the raised lettering to make it shine.

Vietnam veteran Jimmy Oliver, of Gore, was another club member helping to restore the graves.

He said it had been a good day for a good cause.

“A lot of guys from World War 1 and World War 2 probably haven’t got any family left,” Mr Oliver said.

“There’s a need for it.”