As seventeen-year-old Sophie Hawes wandered through the old gravesites at St Stephen’s Church in Parnell, something about the headstones surprised her. Several marked the resting place of children and teenagers. And they were in desperate need of cleaning.
This inspired her and friend Luka Ljubisavljevic, both year 13 students at St Kentigern’s School, to reach out to the Friends of Purewa. They had questions. For example, how do you clean old, lichen-encrusted headstones? The answers came from Friends of Purewa founding member Graham Don. Over the past two years Graham restored some 35 war graves in Purewa Cemetery. His work includes removing lichen and cleaning and re-painting lettering, much of which was illegible.
A Personal Initiative
For Sophie and Luka this is a personal initiative. They can relate to the young people. Passing away so young means they left no descendants to tend to them. “I found it upsetting to see no one looking after these old graves of young people, which are historically important,” Sophie says. “I think their lives should be respected and remembered. Not just forgotten about because they lived a long time ago. Because many of them are our age Luka and I feel quite strongly about this project.”
Graham Don will teach the young volunteers the correct cleaning techniques to ensure the best possible results.
“It’s great to have Sophie and Luka volunteer to assist with headstone cleaning and restoration. Especially as their aim is to focus on the older headstones of young people. It is reassuring that they have a genuine interest and respect for those sites and are prepared to spend time on the scrubbing and polishing required. Their efforts will compliment the recent new plantings of flower beds on some of the very old sites, together with the cleaning and re-painting of about 35 war graves,” he says.
Photo: Sophie, Luka and Don stand beside Amelia Haszard’s resting place at Purewa. Amelia lost three children in the Tarawera volcano eruption in 1886.