Rowan Miller is embarking on a project of remembrance and respect — and she's inviting the community to join her.

The Te Awamutu woman is on a mission to restore the graves of veterans buried in the Waipā/King Country.

She is part of a national initiative run by the New Zealand Remembrance Army (NZRA), volunteering as a regional co-ordinator.

Rowan is in charge of identifying and cleaning veteran's graves at seven cemeteries — Te Awamutu, Kihikihi, Pirongia, Ōtorohanga, Te Kūiti, Pio Pio and Aria.


She is one of about 30 regional co-ordinators managing the volunteers in her area.

Her first goal is to raise awareness and rally keen volunteers.

She will then organise a survey of each cemetery to count veteran graves — there could be hundreds.

Then she will organise working bees to identify and clean each grave.

Rowan is unsure how long the project will take, or how many veterans' graves are in her area, but it could be more than a year of work.

For Rowan, it's a family connection and passion for history that inspired her to volunteer.

Her grandfather and great-grandfather are war veterans and buried in Te Kūiti.

"When I heard about the NZRA I wanted to put my hand up and do something to help honour my grandfather and great-grandfather," Rowan says.


"This is my home patch and where most of my family are from, so this is the logical place to do it."

Rowan's great-grandfather George Miller served as a medic in World War I.

His son Frank Miller — Rowan's grandfather — fought in World War II, serving in the Solomon Islands and later in Egypt.

Both men survived the war but chose to have a veteran's grave.

"They were both passionate about veterans' affairs and ensuring veterans were treated fairly and appropriately," Rowan says.

"They were also both longstanding members of the Te Kūiti RSA."

Rowan is passionate about history and genealogy and keen to give back to her community.

The role is voluntarily and Rowan is doing the work outside of her full-time job of administrator for the Te Awamutu Museum.

"I have a lot of respect for the RSA and what it does, and this is one way I can help," she says.

"I'm interested in mucking in and am keen to hear from anyone else also interested in doing their bit."

The NZRA aims to raise the standard of New Zealand's war graves to be the same or higher than those overseas.

It is hoped that once the project is completed, any New Zealander or visitor to their local cemetery, memorials or plots would be satisfied that service graves were well cared for.

The NZRA will work with veteran organisations, iwi, hapū and marae, schools, cadet forces, and anyone interested in helping with the project.

In New Zealand there is no single organisation that oversees the maintenance and upkeep of war graves, according to the NZRA.

Various agencies contribute to maintaining the graves, yet the responsibility remains largely that of the families and respective councils.

The NZRA is led by former army major Simon Strombom.

There are an estimated 350,000 to 400,000 war graves in New Zealand, based on the numbers of New Zealanders who served in World War I and World War II.

Many of these are scattered throughout New Zealand's service cemeteries and public cemeteries.

"These graves are the final resting place of New Zealand's service people who returned home," Simon says.

"Unfortunately, many have been long forgotten and their headstones and plaques left in disrepair.

"Many families of our fallen have since moved on and they can no longer maintain the graves.

"The need for this work to be done now is beyond urgent."

Rowan wants to hear from people keen to help identify and clean graves in the Te Awamutu, Kihikihi and Pirongia cemeteries. She can be reached on or 027 200 5485.