New Zealand's military past has done much to shape our world, but in many cemeteries around New Zealand graves of our servicemen and women are in a bad state of affairs.

However, Norsewood's Kathryn Mulinder is stepping up to give her service to the New Zealand Remembrance Army, a new national organisation which has begun the restoration and clean up of every service grave in the country and she's encouraging other volunteers.

Mulinder has begun working on the first project on the east coast of the North Island, restoring graves in the Norsewood Cemetery and she will also rally the troops to carry out similar work on the Ormondville Cemetery.

Kathryn Mulinder has already restored the brass bands on this grave plaque of A Mereu (Pop) and is now applying for funding to provide a headstone for his wife Dot's grave alongside.
Kathryn Mulinder has already restored the brass bands on this grave plaque of A Mereu (Pop) and is now applying for funding to provide a headstone for his wife Dot's grave alongside.

Mulinder is the Tararua District co-ordinator for the restoration of war graves and Dave Hands, president of the Norsewood and Districts RSA, said it was "cool" she had taken on the task from the outset.

Advertisement

And along with her brew of salt, vinegar and flour, which lifts the patina of the plaques on each grave, Mulinder wants to get her teeth into a register of all ex servicemen and women's graves.

"I grew up with many of these old fellas and now they've handed the mantle on and I intend to do them proud," she said. "I used to drive many of these old ones to RSA events and they chatted in the back of my car, but sadly I didn't get to write down their stories."

Thirty-six graves in the Norsewood Cemetery have brass plaques, but others have granite or marble headstones.

"Many of these dead have no family in the district, but I will ask the permission of those who do have family, that's why the register is so vital. We need that register because some graves go back to the Boer War. It's been frustrating looking at the graves until now. This is work which has got to be done."

For Mulinder, the work is about sharing and retaining the respect owed to the old soldiers.

And Dave Hands, the president of the Norsewood and Districts RSA, hopes the restoration work will be a call to arms for people to become involved with the local RSA.

"We have 14 new members we have recruited for our Norsewood RSA and all are keen to be involved. After all, everybody has a bucket and a scrubbing brush."

And waiting in the wings are a handful of young people Mulinder hopes will continue the work for the next 40 or 50 years.

Advertisement

"The work is easy, not difficult at all, you just need time," she said. "It's taking me five hours minimum for each plaque, but it's not all in one stint. We will achieve this, we have the energy in our RSA."

Hands said Mulinder's drive and passion is marvellous.

"We can get behind her and local businesses are doing that," he said.

Hands, an ex-serviceman, said the public need to support the project with materials and donations.

But one major plus for Mulinder is the wonderful condition the Norsewood Cemetery which has been kept up by the hard work of Dannevirke's Bill Gunderson of the Scandi group and Norsewood's Promotions.

"They have done excellent work here. It would have been a mammoth task if they hadn't been so diligent," she said.

Mulinder already has a volunteer in Eketahuna and now wants see others step up around the district. She will hold working bees and demonstrations for anyone interested.

The Remembrance Army is the inspiration of retired Major Simon Stombom who was disturbed to find the grave of a young soldier recently featured in national media was in disrepair. He felt there was a need for an organisation to care for war graves and the NZ Remembrance Army was formed.

Until now there has been no one body to oversee war graves in New Zealand. Various agencies contribute to the graves yet the responsibility remains largely that of the families and respective councils. The New Zealand Remembrance Army fills this gap.

The New Zealand Remembrance Army has just one mission, Kiwis recognising Kiwis and Mulinder is determined to restore and clean the graves at Norsewood and Ormondville by 2020.

"We are using specific materials to successfully restore the graves to a national standard," she said.

* Kathryn Mulinder can be contacted on 06 374 0714 or 027 246 8169, if you would like to join the army of workers or want to learn how to restore graves in your area.