The beginnings of this project in 2004 came about from a simple event and idea some years before; the presentation of a photo of a grave to a woman who might never be able to visit that grave. The full story is told here; The Beginning.
From there, the idea of the complete war graves plan began to grow. It became the project vision to photograph all the war graves and primary memorials of New Zealanders who, serving with New Zealand and Allied forces, died in conflicts and in peacekeeping operations, from the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902) to the present day. These photographs were to form the core of a digital archive and database, accessed via a website (currently this website), enabling free public access to the biographical information and images. It was also envisaged that the public could add images and stories to further enrich the archive.
Two crucial steps were taken. First, was the formation of a Trust so that money could be raised for this project that would be free of any penalties or taxes and could be tax-deductible for the donors. Charitable trust status was essential. The second step was to begin to inform many significant parties and people who already had responsibilities in this field.
Principal among these were the Ministry for Culture and Heritage which looks after the war graves in New Zealand and the Pacific on behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RNZRSA) with its key links with war veterans, various government Ministers who needed to know about such an important national project being undertaken and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission itself, charged with commemorating the 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars, largely through the care and maintenance of their graves in war cemeteries.
The New Zealand War Graves Trust having been formed, we began the process of raising money. A seeding grant of $5000 from the Year of the Veteran fund of the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2006 helped set up the administration. Letters of support continued to flow in from people who supported the idea, including the-then Commonwealth Secretary-General Sir Don McKinnon who subsequently became Patron of the New Zealand War Graves Trust.
As the Trust reached far and wide to inform people of the project and seek both moral and financial support, a surprise offering came from the Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae in the form of an Army Land Rover surplus to requirements. The Trust continues to refurbish this vehicle which will be a major presence in the community with the Trust's logo.
The first photographs taken were of the 3652 casualties which our research to date showed were buried in New Zealand in war graves. Perhaps this is a little known fact but is the result of many servicemen and servicewomen being repatriated wounded, especially during World War I, or dying from illness and of others dying in training. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission set a cut-off date for war casualties for World War I of September 1, 1921 and for World War II of December 1, 1947.
The Trust has continued to raise money, gather photographs of New Zealand war graves and build up its archive, database and website. An early difference from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's recorded view of war graves was the determination of the New Zealand War Graves Trust to cover other conflicts apart from World War I and World War II which the commission focused on, essentially all conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries in which New Zealanders were involved. This was extended to peacekeeping operations in which New Zealand defence forces were engaged.
Another change of policy after several years was the New Zealand War Graves Trust agreeing to include New Zealanders who served with other Allied forces in conflicts. This included, for example, New Zealanders with the Australian Army, Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Canadian and American forces, among others. Some of these areas have been well researched (in particular the air force casualties by Errol Martyn) and others have not been researched at all. The continued research being done by the New Zealand War Graves Trust finds new names, casualties that were recorded under other designations and New Zealanders whose nationality was obscured. For these reasons, our original estimates of 30,321 new Zealanders buried in 76 countries has now become (as at March 1, 2014) 32,934 New Zealand in New Zealand and other Allied forces buried in 87 countries. This number will change again.