On Sunday 19th December, members of the public were warmly invited to attend a Candlelit Christmas Remembrance event at Stonefall Cemetery, Harrogate.
Guests were given battery operated tealights to place on the graves of the fallen, with the added option of sponsoring a candle to raise money for the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation and Help for Heroes. The vigil ended with a short service of Remembrance.
Local Sea and Air Cadets took part in the service with a choir of carol singers providing the music. The Lord Mayor and Mayoress of the Borough of Harrogate also attended.
Through Harrogate’s International Partnership, a message was read out on behalf of His Worship Andy Foster, Mayor of Wellington, New Zealand, which thanked local people for their commitment to honour the lives and sacrifice of the New Zealand airmen at the site. Harrogate is twinned with Wellington and four airmen from the city are commemorated at Stonefall Cemetery by the CWGC.
The Candlelit Christmas Remembrance, which began in 2018, was the inspiration of local woman Benji Walker who had seen images of CWGC cemeteries in Europe lit by candlelight.
Benji, who has a son serving in the Yorkshire Regiment, said:
‘’I feel it’s as important today as it was at the time to recognise the sacrifice of those who gave everything to serve this country. The Candlelit Christmas Remembrance is a chance for the local community to gather to remember the sacrifice of the hundreds of CWGC casualties buried at Stonefall, many of them thousands of miles from home.’’
With over 1,000 Commonwealth war graves, Harrogate (Stonefall) Cemetery is one of the largest CWGC sites in the North of England. The majority of burials are airmen who died during the Second World War when Bomber Command bases were established across Yorkshire. Over 600 of the casualties served with the Royal Canadian Air Force and they include two seventeen year-olds.
CWGC Public Engagement Coordinator (North East), Elizabeth Smith said:
‘’The Commonwealth War Graves Commission cares for 170,000 war graves from both World Wars at more than 12,500 locations in the UK. The Air Force plot at Stonefall Cemetery is unique in the North of England due to its size and resemblance to our sites overseas.
At the end of the Second World War, local people were encouraged to adopt the war graves of the Canadian servicemen and lay wreaths on behalf of their families at Christmas. The Candlelit Christmas Remembrance gives local people a chance to reconnect with their history and pay their respects to the fallen.’’
Harriet Langston, CWGF Fundraising Manager, said:
‘’We are so grateful to Benji Walker for organising this incredible event that the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation (CWGF) are a chosen charity for. The donation we will receive will enable us to continue our valuable work to keep alive the stories of those who fought and died in the World Wars.’’
Nearly £300 was raised for the CWGF and Help for Heroes. Members of the public can still sponsor a candle by following the link: