We will remember them. Up and down the United Kingdom there are numerous graves representing sacrifice and historical importance, honouring and marking the lives of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the First and Second World Wars. Did you also know that up and down the UK there are teams of stalwart volunteers who work tirelessly and passionately to ensure that the memory of those who died is kept alive and importantly that they are known by name?
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was formed over 100 years ago and works to commemorate those men and women of the Commonwealth who gave their lives during the war and to ensure that their sacrifice is not forgotten. The CWGC Eyes On, Hands On project allows volunteers to help the Commonwealth War Graves Commission ensure that the war graves across the UK are clean and well tended – such an important job. The volunteers are properly trained and inspect the headstones of the fallen, reporting the conditions to the CWGC, clearing overgrown vegetation and carefully cleaning and brushing the memorials. Their work will ensure that the fallen are not forgotten.
I was privileged to recently have a chance to catch up with Graham Norris who is a volunteer with the Eyes On, Hands On project in my local area. Many in my local community, including myself, have been touched by their work and I would like to recognise and acknowledge the awesome work carried out by him, his eleven year old son and his friends, as well as those other kind hearted volunteers, who like many others, care and want to do something about it.
Hi Graham it’s been great to see your social media posts recently with before and after photos of graves in the local area – you and your friends are doing such an honourable, caring and brilliant job. Can you please tell me a little about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the EOHO initiative?
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission are in charge of all graves of those who died in service from their wounds, or illness/disease due to their time in service. We volunteer through the Eyes on Hands on (EOHO) who organise the maintaining and cleaning of 160,000 graves at 12,500 local locations.
I would love to know why you decided to get involved with the EOHO initiative?
I was out with my family when we came across some Portland stone Commonwealth war graves in my local cemetery. They weren’t in the best condition so we contacted the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and set about signing up and getting trained to do something about it.
It would be amazing if other people would care as much as you! What does being a volunteer with the CWGC involve?
Being a volunteer for the Common Wealth War Graves Commission is probably one of the proudest things I have ever done. Being given permission to care for the last resting places of those that paid the ultimate sacrifice. It really doesn’t get any better than that. Me and the team I work with are overwhelmed with kind comments from people that see our work.
Do you work and if so when do you find the time to volunteer, does this have to be done at a certain time?
We all work full time and mostly have families so we fit in when and where we can to tend for the graves. We are on a bit of a mission at the moment to try and get them all shipshape for Remembrance Day.
Where are the war graves that you care for?
We do most of the graves in the RH1 – RH9 area, apart from Redhill – we look after most. It is a massive honour to be trusted with such work.
Indeed it must be! What is the best thing about being a volunteer for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission?
I work alongside my son Leighton, who is eleven, and my good friends; John White, Alex Gayner, Chris Driscoll and Wade Morton. We have had some great times and visited some stunning locations. The best thing lately is that church congregations are back and we are meeting local parishioners, having tea and snacks and discussing our work.
Do you have any particularly proud moments?
I am always proud of the work we do, but I have to say I am especially proud of my son who is only eleven. He turns up week in, week out, no matter what the weather. hopefully he and his age group will continue with this work in the future.
Thank you so much for all you and your team do Graham and thank you to all of those others that care so much and commit to tending for the graves of the fallen, ensuring that we will remember them.
If reading this has inspired you to get involved, please have a look at the CWGC website, where you can find out more about their work and what it takes to become a volunteer CWGC website.
Oh and please remember to get yourself a poppy this year, you can find out more about the poppy appeal here Poppy appeal.