The Mayor of Wolverhampton, his team and other councillors turned volunteers for the day to clean war graves at a city cemetery.
Merridale Cemetery, off Jeffcock Road, Penn Fields, is the final resting place of 200 service personnel who lost their lives in the first and second world wars. The plots are officially recognised as Commonwealth War Graves and form part of more than 306,000 memorials which the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) are responsible for maintaining in the UK.
Merridale Cemetery contains not only the graves of British servicemen, but also those of a number of Dutch soldiers from the Princess Irene Brigade who were stationed just outside Wolverhampton during the Second World War. In July, the Mayor of Wolverhampton, Councillor Dr Michael Hardacre and Cllr Greg Brackenridge, a former Mayor and current Armed Forces Covenant Champion, wrote to the CWGC saying that the memorials at Merridale were in need of a clean.
The Commission works closely with volunteers from its ‘Eyes On, Hands On’ project - so both councillors offered their services as well as those of the staff working in the Mayoral office, using some of their two-days annual volunteering leave, to help with the clean-up. They joined forces with the commission on Wednesday (27 September) to give as many of the graves as possible a clean to ensure they were looking their best in time for Remembrance Weekend in November.
Each year, Merridale Cemetery hosts a memorial service organised by the Royal British Legion and a contingent from the Princess Irene Brigade in The Netherlands continue to come over each year to remember their fallen comrades. The Mayor and Mayoress also regularly walk their dog Emily, a terrier cross, in the cemetery grounds and she also came down to supervise the cleaning on Wednesday.
Mayor Hardacre said: “Merridale is a beautiful cemetery and final resting place for these war heroes and every year it hosts a service where serving Dutch soldiers come over to remember their comrades who died during the Second World War.
“My team and I were only too happy to offer our services to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to help to clean the graves so they are looking their best in time for this year’s service in November. We were delighted to be joined by Cllr Greg Brackenridge, a veteran himself and our Armed Forces Covenant Champion and Cllr Jacqueline Sweetman a local ward councillor.
“The commission do wonderful work maintaining a vast number of memorials at home and abroad, and they value the help of volunteers very highly. As well as giving some of our local war graves a clean, we wanted to raise awareness of the splendid work the commission and its volunteers do.”
Andy Knowlson, a Regional Manager for the CWGC, said: "We would like to thank the Mayor and his team for giving up their time to help with cleaning the headstones at Merridale Cemetery. It was a very productive day, which we all appreciated."
Sarah Hann, local coordinator for the CWGC’s Eyes On Hands On scheme, said: “We were delighted to welcome the council team to Merridale Cemetery this week.
“I could see the team felt a great sense of respect for the men and women of the city who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars. Everyone wanted to make a difference and was pleased to be able to spend time helping at the cemetery.”