STEVE Davies is on holiday in Jersey, although you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you encountered him this week with all the paraphernalia of a grave restorer around some of the Island’s parish cemeteries.
One of 16 army veterans enjoying a week in the sunniest part of the British Isles thanks to Holidays for Heroes, Mr Davies is not just taking the opportunity for some sight-seeing. The former member of the 3rd Battalion the Royal Green Jackets has been rolling up his sleeves and giving special attention to the memorials to two of the Island’s Victoria Cross winners – Jack Counter in St Saviour’s churchyard and Patrick Roddy in Mont à l’Abbé New Cemetery.
In the last five years, Mr Davies, a qualified stonemason, has cleaned up the graves of more than 500 ex-servicemen, transforming sometimes overgrown memorials with obscured or faded lettering into sites fit to honour those whose courage on the battlefield in the service of their country deserves never to be forgotten.
‘I just love what I do,’ Mr Davies said. ‘I’m having a great time. It’s a busman’s holiday for me,’ he said.
During the week, he has been working his magic with a combination of cleaning agents, brushes and paint pens on the grave and memorial stones.
It was a passion first stirred by a visit to Sandhurst for a family christening when, taking a stroll outside, he discovered the overgrown grave of an 18-year-old rifleman in the Rifle brigade – the antecedent regiment to his own – killed just six weeks before the Armistice. Mr Davies determined that he would do something about the state of the grave. ‘The rest is history,’ he said.
Mr Davies has his own Facebook page, Military Grave Restorer, which chronicles his efforts in cemeteries across the country, and a Just Giving page which is seeking to raise funds to cover the cost of travel to the different locations and the cost of materials for the cleaning. ‘We ask for your support with a donation,’ the appeal states, ‘to enable some humane care for these neglected resting places of men and women, both military and non-military, who gave and dedicated their lives with service toward a better future for us all.’ The work itself is a charitable enterprise.
Here in Jersey, Mr Davies has also been out to St Ouen for the memorial to First World War VC winner Harold Ackroyd whose widow Mabel moved to Jersey after their daughter Ursula married into the Malet de Carteret family of St Ouen’s Manor, Her late husband, whose body is believed to lie in Birr Crossroads Cemetery near Ypres, is commemorated on the gravestone on which Mr Davies worked.
But his attention was particularly captured in St Saviour by the memorial to those who served in the Peninsular War and he hopes to return to apply his skills to some of those graves. ‘It is the largest number of graves from that period anywhere in the world. It’s really interesting,’ Mr Davies said.