They may be long gone, and some have no living descendants in Whanganui, but thanks to a group of local youth, their graves are well tended.

Whanganui air, sea and army cadets have been cleaning headstones on servicemen and women's graves in the lead-up to Anzac day.

It is something they do every year and air cadet Brandon Kidd said they discovered some previously untended graves at Heads Rd Cemetery on Friday.

"They are really old and date back to the 1850s, during the New Zealand Land Wars.

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"It was quite hard to read the inscriptions but they are soldiers' graves."

Whanganui Air Training Corps Squadron Leader Charlie Quirk said Veterans Affairs was struggling to maintain New Zealand war graves and asked for support from cadets in 2013.

"The graves of servicemen and women who died in overseas conflicts are classed as 'true war graves' but there are also some who died in New Zealand from wounds inflicted overseas."

"True" war graves are the graves of serving members of the forces who died between certain dates.

For World War I it is between August 3, 1914, and August 31, 1921. For World War II it is between September 3, 1939, and December 31, 1947.

"We include some that don't meet the terms of the classification and cadets discover new graves each year," said Quirk.

"The cadets had to work very hard the first time they cleaned the graves because some had been neglected for a long time."

After heavy build-ups of lichen and moss have been cleared, it becomes a matter of maintenance and some century-old graves at Aramoho Cemetery looked almost new after being cleaned on Saturday.

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Cadet Georgia Hiscotte discovered a new World War I grave while cleaning others nearby.

"The inscription is very faded but when I looked closely, I saw that the person served in the First World War."

Quirk said some of the graves discovered by cadets this year will be added to the future cleaning schedule.

He says cadets will be assisting the RSA with their Poppy Day Appeal on Saturday, April 20, laying poppies on graves at Aramoho Cemetery on April 24 and will be attending Anzac Day parades throughout the Whanganui region on April 25.

The New Zealand Cadet Forces (NZCF or Cadet Forces) is a voluntary military-style training organisation for New Zealand youth.

Youth are usually eligible to join one of three Corps - Sea Cadet Corps (SCC), the New Zealand Cadet Corps (NZCC) and the Air Training Corps (ATC) when they start high school.

Brandon Kidd, 18, joined ATC as a 12-year-old and says he wants to become a commercial pilot.

"It is really good training for life and we do a lot of fun things as well.

"Some young people don't like being told what to do but it is a brilliant opportunity which I highly recommend."

To find out more about NZCF in Whanganui and how to join visit cadetforces.org.nz