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Call for action on decaying war graves at Movilla cemetery in Northern Ireland

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 08/06/2015

Eileen Scott at Movilla cemetery
Eileen Scott at Movilla cemetery

Graves of soldiers killed in battle are being left decaying and in disrepair, prompting calls for action to ensure our war dead are properly respected.

In one cemetery their plots are vanishing under weeds, with headstones suffering from years of exposure to the elements.

The state of some graves at Movilla cemetery in Newtownards, where dozens of veterans are buried, prompted one woman to take on the task herself.

Eileen Scott was so distressed by their dilapidated state during a visit 10 days ago that she has spent hours clearing the plots and marking each one with a little cross and light.

She has also started an online campaign aimed at mobilising others to help preserve war graves in other cemeteries across Northern Ireland.

Her campaign has highlighted the wider issue of Northern Ireland's forgotten war graves.

Responsibility for the maintenance of military burial plots across the world lies with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Founded in 1917, it takes care of cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in 154 countries.

However, its remit does not include graves and memorials organised privately by families. In some cases the last relatives have passed away, leaving no one to regularly tend to the grave.

Doug Beattie, a former Royal Irish Regiment captain and winner of the Military Cross, said the poor state of war graves was a growing issue.

"The problem is that you have so many of these war graves which are not in battlefield plots - they are in small, homegrown graveyards," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"There are so many graves spread around the world and the countryside that not all are looked after.

"I was in Dublin recently and I saw dozens of British military gravestones from pre-1916 which were stacked up against the wall.

"It is not unique, but it is certainly something we should be looking at."

According to the War Graves Commission, there are 21 Commonwealth burials from the First World War at Movilla cemetery.

There are a further 24 from the Second World War, seven of which are unidentified, and three for Polish nationals.

Like most other cemeteries, there are also a number of private family graves.

"If it's a war grave to an individual that has been done by a family, then the War Graves Commission won't look after it. It is up to the family," added Mr Beattie.

"What you may find at cemeteries are graves of servicemen put there by families or at the behest of the families, which the War Graves Commission won't have any knowledge of, and they will have fallen into disrepair.

"A really stark example of this is the Victoria Cross Trust, which has gone around the country and found hundreds of graves of Victoria Cross winners in disrepair."

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