By John Baron
It doesn’t feel like seven years since I last joined the hardy volunteers doing their bit to maintain neglected war graves in Bramley.
Every other Wednesday afternoon around half a dozen people give up their time to help clear away the weeds and grass from forgotten war graves and pick up litter at Bramley Baptist Church graveyard.
West Leeds Dispatch editor John Baron caught up with the small group of volunteers on a sunny late August afternoon and found them on a mission – and having lots of fun at the same time. But this merry band of litter pickers, grass cutters and weeders is starting to dwindle and they’re in real need of new helpers.
Sue Mackey, 70, has been with the group with her husband Paul, 73, since 2015 and initially became involved because she has family buried there. She said: “If it wasn’t for us this area would be largely unkempt. Many of the gravestones include such interesting stories and it’s important that the history is not lost and that the people who gave their lives for us are not forgotten.
“There’s been a massive turnaround since we first started seven years ago. I really enjoy being outside and keeping fit and active by tidying the place up and making it look respectable.
“We are here all weathers and would love new people to join us. They’ll be made very welcome.”
Her husband Peter agrees. He said: “It’s nice doing what we do. There’s a good atmosphere and you do get a lot of satisfaction from it. Years ago the grass was so high that you could have found tigers here!
“I always think that if it wasn’t for the soldiers, we probably wouldn’t be here now. Looking after their graves the least we can do.”
Volunteer Lynn Groves, 67, was cutting grass around a war grave when WLD found her. Lynn spends a lot of time photographing headstones across Yorkshire and is fascinating by the history and people’s stories. She was one of the people who created artificial poppies out of plastic drinks bottles which were placed on the war graves in previous years and is happy to make a difference.
“These are all Bramley people and they have unbelievable stories which should not be forgotten, but we’re a dwindling group which really needs more people,” Lynn said. “There’s only so much we can do.”
Bramley resident Nigel Wilkinson, 65, was joining the volunteers for the first time. He said: “I’ve always wanted to do something for the community and I noticed a call out for helpers on Facebook and wanted to do my bit. I’ve lived in Bramley since I was 18 and wanted to give something back to the community.”
Joining the volunteers for the afternoon was a group of community payback helpers who, the volunteers say, have been a massive help in their task in maintaining the graveyard.
The headstones boast many names, backgrounds and stories. One particularly important memorial remembers a Bramley SAS hero who is said to be the inspiration for James Bond 007.
Major John Geoffrey Appleyard was a second world war hero, one of the founder members of the SAS, and the son of Leeds garage owner John Appleyard.
I was as moved today on my visit as I was when I last visited volunteers back in July 2015. At the time, I wrote: “As you walk around the graves it strikes you how many brave young men from the Bramley and Rodley area gave their lives during the first and second world wars. How many young lives were cut short right at the start of the first world war as the volunteer Leeds Pals went into action. Or how many died on bloody battlefields like the Somme, hundreds of miles from home.”
I couldn’t sum it up any better today. If you can get involved in the Bramley war grave clean-ups, please do.
Updates on the fortnightly tidy ups regularly appear on the popular Memories of Bramley Facebook group or on Twitter @bramleymemorial. The next meet up is scheduled for Wednesday, 14 September 2022 at 12.30pm.