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Gravestone cleaning project in King's Lynn preserves memory of World War victims

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Volunteers were out in force at a Lynn cemetery to help ensure those who lost their lives during the World Wars are never forgotten.

As part of a new 'Eyes On, Hands On' scheme being run by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission [CWGC], around 20 volunteers helped keep war graves clean in the Hardwick Road Cemetery yesterday morning.

The idea is to ensure graves are maintained to the standard of those on the large battlefield cemeteries of France and Flanders where loss of life during the wars can be most readily associated.

Volunteer Rob Pritchard (front), with one of the gravestones after a clean, along with other local volunteers
Volunteer Rob Pritchard (front), with one of the gravestones after a clean, along with other local volunteers

Sally McGlone, 'Eyes On, Hands On' project volunteer coordinator for the East, said there has been a "good uptake of people" getting involved within West Norfolk.

She said the project was "just starting to get off the ground" and volunteers were in the process of being trained.

Mrs McGlone, who served in the air force for 16 years, said: "It's encouraging people to go into their local communities as some of the headstones have been untouched for 20, 30 years.

"There is also a concept that if they were not killed in France or Flanders then they were not killed under the umbrella of war, so it is also about equality for everyone who served in the war."

The charity state there are 300,000 people in the UK who died as a result of World War Two or World War One on home soil.

And there are 75 graves in the Hardwick cemetery for the volunteers to clean, which can in turn lead to them researching the names uncovered.

Mrs McGlone added: "Everyone shouts about Remembrance weekend and there is a lot of noise on social media, but the commission aims to remember them every day and tries to get other people to think the same way."

Those who become volunteers can have military connections in their family, they can be service people, cadet groups or they may simply have an interest in local history.

Naomi Walsby, 34, travelled from Norwich to volunteer in Lynn and said she was first inspired to get involved after visiting battlefields in France and Flanders two years ago.

Volunteer Naomi Walsby
Volunteer Naomi Walsby

She said: "I thought they (battlefields) were beautiful and started looking for graves in the local area. A lot of them were unkempt which is a shame.

"There are names which catch your attention and some have a whole backstory to look into. The anniversary years for World War One were fabulous such as the art installations and silent soldiers, but I am now worried people will fall away again outside of the war years.

"Communities need to know one of the most interesting parts of our history."

Roger Vanderson, 80, from Brundall, said: "I have done a lot of research in the past and saw this was advertised online so myself and my wife were very keen."

Dean Toms, 52, served in the airforce for 22 years, and also travelled over 40 miles to clean graves in the Lynn cemetery yesterday.

Volunteer Dean Toms
Volunteer Dean Toms

Mr Toms, of Norwich, said: "It's a way of saying thank you for what all those people have done for the country, and remembering those who lost their lives.

"I served in Germany, and I think the rest of Europe seems to have a lot more respect for those that died for their country, and we have lost that. It is my first time volunteering for this organisation and the second area in the UK they [CWGC] are doing.

"It is a brilliant idea that the commission will go into schools and tell the history of the people on the graves so that people are not left behind."

Jon and Ginni Broughton of Fakenham both volunteered having had fathers who served in the RAF.

Mrs Broughton said: "Some of the little villages would never get covered unless people help to volunteer. It is spread out over such a huge area and there are so many places with tiny little churches."

Ginni and Jon Broughton
Ginni and Jon Broughton

Mr Broughton added: "Some of the headstones may not have been touched for years so it is keeping them legible. Just talking about it with people keeps the memory alive.

"With technology nowadays, and everyone being on social media, people do not necessarily go out and discuss it so we need to find ways to keep it alive."

Over 30 groups and individuals have been involved with the project so far in Norfolk.

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