Grave restorer to quit Island after dispute over chemicals

Military grave restorer Steve Davies paints the lettering on a grave in St Saviour's church cemetery. Picture: JON GUEGAN. (38010459)

AN armed services veteran who has repeatedly visited the Island to restore historic military graves has vowed never to return after a row over the cleaning materials he uses.

Steve Davies, a former member of the 3rd Battalion the Royal Green Jackets, has restored 73 of the historic military graves at St Saviour’s Church.

The graveyard holds what is believed to be the largest collection of such graves, following the retirement to Jersey of many ex-servicemen in the first half of the 19th-century.

Mr Davies returned to the Island last month to complete the job but complained that ever since he had made his arrangements he had been confronted with red tape, including the requirement to obtain planning permission for work he had previously undertaken without hindrance.

“I’m not coming back ever again. I’ve never been asked to do a planning application to work on a headstone – I’m a grave restorer and a qualified stone mason with six years’ practical experience. I’m not a builder,” Mr Davies said.

During his visit, Mr Davies was asked to attend a meeting with St Saviour Constable Kevin Lewis, parish Rector the Rev. Martin Evans, Jersey Heritage and the government’s regulation directorate and heritage advisor.

A statement released on behalf of the Cabinet Office said Mr Davies had agreed a revised working method that removed chemicals and bleach products from the cleaning process, and had agreed to confirm the churchyards, gravestones and monuments he and his colleague planned to work on. “As the works could be treated as repairs, no further planning consent was required,” it said.

However, the statement added that a call was subsequently received from a colleague of Mr Davies to confirm they had discussed matters and decided that they no longer wished to continue with the works they had planned using the less aggressive cleaning methods. They did not believe they could achieve the finish they have led their customers to expect and wanted to withdraw from the proposed works.

The pair confirmed they would finish re-painting four headstone inscriptions they had started in St Saviour’s churchyard and, once done, planned to return to the UK.

By way of explanation, the Cabinet Office statement said: “Whilst the cleaning can be seen as beneficial, there are unintended consequences of abrasive and strong chemical cleaning that erode the natural stone grave markers unnecessarily. This causes a larger surface area to be exposed to become dirtier sooner and leads to quicker regrowth of the biological fauna – arguably requiring more frequent cleaning. This leads to swifter erosion making the inscriptions degrade each time. The balance between restoration and conservation requires a different approach to that proposed, to ensure longevity of the grave markers and monuments.”

In a social media posting, Mr Davies described it as “a sad day as we leave your lovely Island”, adding that he was departing out-of-pocket as a result of not being able to complete jobs that would have contributed to the costs of his visit.

Mr Davies had undertaken the restorations on a voluntary basis, seeking only to recover his travel and subsistence costs.

“I return home today with the white flag flying and will consider my future. I am a former soldier and disabled war pension recipient with complex PTSD, anxiety and depression, am 66 years old and am now drawing my state pension,” he wrote.

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