The Eyes On, Hands On project is an initiative by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) that allows volunteers across the country to reconnect with the history and heritage on their doorstep and helps CWGC to ensure these war graves, which are scattered across more than 12,500 locations, are clean and well-tended.  

Ben Smith, Maintenance Team Leader in the South West Region, recently used one of his ‘Be the Difference’ volunteering days to lend a hand at two sites in Dorset. Our ‘Be the Difference’ scheme is a initiative that supports employees to formally volunteer some of their time to a charity or community project during regular working hours.

“While many people know about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s work in France and Belgium, there are more than 160,000 war graves spread across the UK which are often less well known about.

“Volunteers for the Eyes On, Hands On play a vital role in helping CWGC to maintain UK war graves. Once trained, volunteers are encouraged to visit local churchyards and burial grounds near to where they live. They are equipped with the know-how to spot the isolated graves which come under the Commission’s care, and undertake inspection visits to ensure each grave is in a good condition. This regular information from local volunteers ensures CWGC’s professional teams can be better directed and allows the CWGC to act fast if an issue is found.

“I spent the day at two local sites; St George’s Church and the Royal Navy Cemetery, both of which are situated on Portland, Dorset. The day was initially spent carrying out detailed inspections of the site to check the condition of the headstones, ensuring online records were correct and to take photographs where necessary. Later, a number of headstones were cleaned and tended to.

“I started volunteering with the CWGC during the first lockdown; the project had only recently started itself and was desperately seeking volunteers to help out. Weymouth & Portland now have a small, but dedicated group of volunteers, most of which are veterans, carrying out the work on behalf of the CWGC.

“For me, primarily, it’s about ensuring the sacrifice of the fallen isn’t forgotten. As a veteran, the work becomes even more poignant when you come across headstones commemorating more modern conflicts such as Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan – conflicts which I’ve personally served in.

“Each headstone has its own story to tell and I find it extremely interesting to research the history to try and piece together the story of how the men and women ended up being buried there. There is also the social aspect of working in a voluntary group; not only do you get to meet and chat with other volunteers, but also members of the public, who are hugely appreciative of the work carried out by the CGWC and will generally have their own story to tell.

“I’d thoroughly recommend using the ‘Be the Difference’ scheme to everyone at Landmarc and if anyone else is interested in volunteering with CWGC, more information can be found about the project here.”