Volunteers spruce up Veterans’ headstones in time for November 11

Article / November 7, 2016 / Project number: 16-0317

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By Jeanne Gagnon, Guard of Honour Newspaper

Ottawa, Ontario – Headstones of veterans buried at the National Military Cemetery will look their best for Remembrance Day as volunteers, using brushes, dish soap, water and a lot of elbow grease have removed any dirt or grime covering the inscriptions.

Warrant Officer Julie Archambault first discussed with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to see what could be done to clean the veterans’ headstones at the cemetery.

“I saw that the gravestones needed maintenance,” she said, adding for three days after sending the email invitation to participate, it seemed like one message a minute in reply came into her inbox. “The response was really very enthusiastic,” she said, adding military and civilians, some coming as far as Petawawa, Ontario, participated in the cleaning.

In the end, more than 250 volunteers cleaned the approximately 2,000 markers and headstones at the national cemetery, working between Oct. 6 and Nov. 7. The Commission provided the cleaning materials, said WO Archambault. She explained approximately 30 people daily clean between eight and 10 headstones each. In the newer section, said WO Archambault, it takes about five minutes to clean one headstone while in the older section, it might take up to 30 minutes of good effort to get the job done.

“There will be a few small tasks left, but at least the worst of it has been dealt with. This stopped the damage and you can tell who is buried here,” she said.  “We hope this will become an annual project, depending on need. We could also extend it to other NCR cemeteries where many of our veterans have been laid to rest.”

One of the Canadian Armed Forces volunteers was Major François Bak.

“As a section leader, I thought this was a tremendous opportunity for us to get out together as a group and to contribute in a small way to honour our fallen, to do our part,” he said. “Personally, I feel just really honoured to be able to do this.”

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