Here’s how you can help clean up veterans’ graves in New Westminster

Community members are invited to help the Society of the Officers of the Honourable Guard make sure veterans’ graves are tidied up in time for Remembrance Day.

Since 2013, the society has invited students and community members to help clean up the graves and headstones of veterans and soldiers buried in Fraser Cemetery. This year’s event is on Sunday, Nov. 3 from noon to 3 p.m.

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“We want everybody to come,” said Rob Rathbun, a member of the Society of the Officers of the Honourable Guard. “We will be looking after all the military graves in the veterans section. We are here to answer questions and talk about it.”

Along with cleaning the gravestones, the event is an opportunity for community members to share their families’ stories.

“That’s what it’s all about. It’s to get the conversation going,” Rathbun said. “The interesting thing is everybody has these stories. That’s what it’s all about – preserving them.”

As an example, Rathbun said he was talking to cemetery staff and learned veterans of the U.S. Civil War are buried in New Westminster. “After the civil war, a lot of them came up for the Gold Rush up here, settled in New Westminster and lived the rest of their lives here.”

Rathbun said the estate of the late Tony Antonias donated an air warden’s helmet that was found in the basement. It’s believed to have belonged to the family that owned the house before Antonias.

“There are all these stories that are in people’s basements. We are trying to get people to talk,” he said. “There are so many wonderful stories.”

The Society of the Officers of the Honourable Guard is also doing its part to ensure that soldiers aren’t forgotten.

Last November, the group unveiled a gravestone it had purchased for First World War veteran Williams Stevenson, after raising money to buy a gravestone for the soldier who had been buried in an unmarked grave after his death in 1939. Because Stevenson had no family in the area and wasn’t married, there was no one around to pay for a headstone.

Within a few days of launching the fundraiser, the society had raised more than $4,500, more than four times the amount needed to buy Stevenson’s stone and decided to buy headstones for other veterans who are buried in unmarked graves at Fraser Cemetery.

“We have another one that we are going to be doing,” Rathbun said. “We are doing this in partnership with the Last Post Fund.”

 

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