Memorial plans unveiled

Poppy tribute . .. Michael Keach (left) and Kevin Baff examine the headstone of Mr Keach’s parents at Balclutha Lawn Cemetery. The men recently added a ceramic NZRA poppy to the headstone in order to acknowledge Vic Keach’s defence force service. PHOTO: NICK BROOK

Balclutha’s new replacement for the former Town Hall is scheduled for completion this time next year, and project organiser Kevin Baff is working hard and fast to ensure the community hub’s armed conflict memorial will be the district’s very best effort.

Mr Baff joined the air force as an apprentice engineer in 1965, beginning a career leading through the military to the rank of lieutenant colonel. In the military he worked in humanitarian and conflict law, representing New Zealand at high levels all over the world, including deployment to active conflict zones.

A published author and Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, MrBaff lives in retirement with his wife in Clutha district and has respectfully offered his expertise and passion for military history to hub planners and the community.

‘‘The hub looks an impressive project on its own merits, and here’s also an opportunity for something to be as good as we as a community can get it.

‘‘Our chance to make the new armed conflict memorial as moving, comprehensive and relevant is happening right now and I’d like to ask Balcluthians for their help in achieving that,’’ MrBaff said.

Not yet finalised plans are for a war memorial alcove off the hub’s foyer for servicemen from Balclutha town itself, and a garden of remembrance with the names of those who served on active duty from the wider district engraved on a much longer wall, inspired by the Mata Au Clutha River. ‘‘The number of people in the district who answered the call to military service from the Boer Wars to Afghanistan is surprising.

‘‘We want all of those people recognised on the walls of remembrance and in a public multimedia resource for the deeper stories and histories of those people to be told, and that’s where we’re asking for input,’’ Mr Baff said.

Meshing his own research with data available from the Ministry of Defence and associated agencies, Mr Baff is compiling a list of more than 3800 district service›people soon to be made available online.

Relatives and descendants will be able to access these official records and email extra information or scans of photos, diaries and memorabilia to help Mr Baff create a digital encyclopedia of Clutha district’s contribution to military history.

‘‘We certainly remember those who gave their lives, and in our era we’re also acknowledging physical and mental trauma, the years of separation and personal sacrifice.’’

Mr Baff is also managing a project to recognise local servicepeople who were laid to rest without mention of their military or national service.

‘‘The New Zealand Restoration Army has restored the graves of more than 72,000 military personnel, and an ex› military man in Oamaru has made approved 5cm ceramic poppies families can attach to the monuments of those who were not buried with formal recognition of service,’’ he said.

On April 22, Mr Baff will be at Balclutha Lawn Cemetery at 10am and Kaitangata cemetery at 3pm to apply poppies to non›Department of Veterans Affairs gravestones on a first›in, first›served basis Developments in his research work will be reported in

Clutha Leader as Anzac day approaches.