Princess Anne named patron of charity that finds and restores military graves and memorials

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The Princess Royal hearing about the war veterans buried at St Saviour’s Church
The Princess Royal hearing about the war veterans buried at St Saviour’s Church

The Princess Royal has become the first patron of a charity that is aiming to find and restore long-abandoned military graves.

The Remembrance Trust seeks to preserve the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, returning graves and memorials to their former glory, while at the same time creating a database spanning more than 200 years.

It is no mean task, with a remit covering an undefined period up until 1914.

Algy Cluff, the charity’s founder and chairman, said Princess Anne was the “best royal” for the job, given her interest in naval, military and heritage matters, and said he was “delighted” she had agreed to be their figurehead.

“If you're killed from 1914 onwards your grave is kept immaculately by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which is funded by the Commonwealth governments. Whereas if you were killed before 1914 you are no one's responsibility at all,” he told the Telegraph.

"No one's looking after these graves, which is really a bit of a scandal, actually."

The Princess Royal hearing about the war veterans buried at St Saviour’s Church
The Princess Royal hearing about the war veterans buried at St Saviour’s Church

As such, Mr Cluff, 80, a former captain in the Grenadier Guards, set about plugging a hole in the nation’s history books, finding and taking responsibility for the graves of military personnel predating the First World War.

Having only got underway last year, following several months of fundraising, the organisation already has its work cut out.

"There's an awful lot for us to do,” Mr Cluff went on.

“To give you one example of what we are doing now - our current work in progress - we are restoring the graves of 12 winners of the Victoria Cross who are buried in one cemetery alone, Brompton Cemetery in London, and no one looks after them."

The trust is also about to start assisting in the renovation of the military cemetery at Shorncliffe, near Hythe in Kent, which conceals tales of decades of military history and boasts the graves of three Victoria Cross winners.

“It’s a jungle, it's a disgrace,” said Mr Cluff. “The Ministry of Defence won't spend a cent on it."

Not content with focusing solely on the bigger projects, the trust’s supporters have also written to every single vicar in Britain, asking if they have any graves in their churchyards that conform to their requirements.

Relying solely on donations

Unsurprisingly, the responses have already started trickling in and they are preparing to start work.

However, such a broad remit requires deep pockets and while Mr Cluff spent the best part of a year raising money, he needs more.

“We are entirely self funded,” he said. “We rely on donations, we don't get any help from the government.”

The trust has partnered with former soldier Steve Davies, 63, a self taught military grave restorer and Army veteran.

Mr Davies fell into the work three years ago when, during a family christening, he happened across the overgrown grave of an 18-year-old Rifleman killed six weeks before the Armistice.

He returned the next day to sort it out and the rest, as he says, is history.

Since then, he has restored more than 150 graves, including those of 22 Victoria Cross recipients, and fortuitously, was put in touch with Mr Cluff around six months ago.

Raising the charity's profile

“All I want to do is get this right,” he said. “No matter what your political persuasion, it’s unbelievable that 12 Victoria Cross holders are buried in a scruffy little corner in Brompton Cemetery, unknown about and unloved.”

The Princess Royal was brought on board after supporting the Remembrance Trust at an event in June, when she unveiled a memorial at St Saviour’s Church in Jersey honouring 75 veterans of the Napoleonic Wars.

"We were delighted, of course, that she could do that,” Mr Cluff said of her attendance.

“I think she was quite touched by the idea, so I wrote to her after that."

That she agreed to become patron was a "tremendous" feather in the cap for the charity, he said, one that he hopes will help to raise the profile of its work and provide a moral boost to volunteers and supporters.

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