Fr Bernard O’Donnell
3 May 2012
Some 30,000 New Zealand military personnel are buried on foreign soil, casualties of the First and Second World Wars as well as the Vietnam War, Malayan Emergency and the Korean War.
To personally pay tribute to men and women, the Dolores Cross Project aims to place a simple, handmade, woven harakeke cross – the Dolores Cross – at each of their graves.
Harakeke was chosen because it grows plentifully in New Zealand and it seemed appropriate that a part of New Zealand made up this unique tribute, creating an intimate link between the homeland and those New Zealanders who fought in world conflicts and never returned.
To document this, a tribute has been made to a particular gravesite/memorial; photographs of the gravestones on which the Dolores Cross is placed will be taken.
The Dolores Cross was first placed on the graves of New Zealand soldiers at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, Staffordshire, England, on Anzac Day 2008. This special day marked the 90th anniversary of the first Anzac Day commemorated by New Zealand troops stationed at the nearby Brocton army camp during the First World War.
The Dolores Cross is the personal tribute of project founder Dolores Ho, a Malaysian-Chinese who migrated to New Zealand in 1987. Currently the archivist of the National Army Museum in Waiouru.
Her work has given Dolores a deep passion for New Zealand military history and respect for the sacrifices of ordinary New Zealanders who did extraordinary things in war time.
The idea for the cross came about quite by accident. ‘In my work, I have the privilege of researching the lives of New Zealand soldiers and their involvement in global conflicts. As a result, I feel a personal connection with these brave souls and wanted to make a personal gesture of commemoration.
‘I have also met many people who have mentioned that they would love to place a memorial token on the graves of family members who lay overseas. However, often they were unable to travel that far and sometimes did not even know where the graves were located.’
At the time, Dolores was involved with the Chase Project, formed by Richard Pursehouse and Lee Dent of Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, which was researching the third New Zealand Rifle Brigade. The regiment was based at Brocton Camp during the First World War.
The Anzac Day ceremony at Cannock Chase is the largest outside Australia and New Zealand. The turnout includes more than 80 flag-bearers from various British Legion branches, a piper, orchestra, local dignitaries and official representatives from Australia and New Zealand.
Dolores thought it would be fitting that the New Zealand soldiers lying in Cannock Chase Cemetery receive a New Zealand tribute for their sacrifice. As a personal gesture, as well as a gesture on behalf of all family members who are unable to visit the graves, Dolores gathered RNZRSA poppies to place on these graves.
Unable to collect enough poppies, she made up the shortfall with flax crosses. Dolores chose to make a cross because she is a Christian and on a Sunday afternoon in early April 2008, she made the first 100 Dolores Crosses.
On Anzac Day 2008, Richard and Lee helped place the flax crosses on all 73 New Zealand graves at Cannock Chase. Dolores resolved to pay similar tribute to all New Zealand military personnel buried on foreign soil, and the Dolores Cross Project was born.
Visitors who saw the flax crosses at Cannock Chase Cemetery asked where they came from. Richard and Lee responded that the crosses were made by Dolores. As a result, people started referring to the flax crosses as the ‘Dolores Cross’, which is also Latin for ‘the cross of sorrows’.
For further information on the project and how you can help, visit www.dolorescrossproject.org.