Langley retiree Murray Macham recalls being a young RCMP officer stationed on the Prairies and being tasked by the brass to go to the local cemetery and clean the graves of RCMP members.
“One a year we were given a file and told ‘Get out there and find old Bob, or whatever and make sure his headstone or marker is well displayed’,” Macham said.
That was often a half day’s work.
“Quite often the cemetery was completely overgrown and quite often the NCO of the day would say, ‘Well, get out there with the lawnmower and do the cemetery.”
Now 50 years later he tends RCMP members graves as a volunteer through the RCMP Veterans’ Association.
He took on this task a couple of years ago.
“There’s so many in the Lower Mainland that are interred,” he said.
There’s eight veterans in Langley Lawn, six in the Fort Langley Cemetery and three in Murrayville Cemetery.
There’s 119 interred in Mountainview Cemetery in Vancouver alone.
He’s careful about how he does it and looks to maintain the graves on a yearly basis.
“I don’t like to use too much water or cleaning fluid because of the stone. I don’t want to damage it,” he explained.
He tackles a few graves at a time, making each trip a nice outing in a park-like setting for a chance for quiet contemplation.
Macham wandered through Langley Lawn Cemetery on Tuesday, looking RCMP member Nelson Hindle, the father of an RCMP friend. Township cemeterian Dave Wareing used GPS and cemetery records to pinpoint the spot. Macham recorded the location on GPS.
Nelson Hindle and his wife, Thelma Grace, are buried in the cemetery’s section for cremated remains but with no headstones.
“This morning when I went [online]… I find out his son has died,” Macham said.
Macham will try to see what he can do about getting grave markers.
“I will try to locate the family, now knowing that his son has passed, it might be difficult… and if I can’t locate family, I will simply send it off and make a request to the RCMP and they will make a small marker with the crest of the RCMP.”
On Tuesday morning he cleaned the grave of Brent Barbour, someone he served with at E-Division headquarter. Barbour’s grave marker has the RCMP crest but nearby the marker for another veteran, George Cowan, makes no reference to his RCMP history. But Macham still tackles any RCMP graves he can find in the records.
He’s not sure of the future of the endeavour, whether it will still be going when he is passed.
“I would like to see it continued. I don’t know if it will though,” he said.
He’s hoping the families of deceased RCMP members learn about the volunteer grave program and that the association can do for them.
“Quite often a wife will say to me ‘Oh, I wish I had know because we could have got a marker or I wish I had known. We could have got him into Regina [Depot],” Macham said.
Anyone wanting to find out more can contact the RCMP Veterans’ Association through its website.
While cleaning graves, he’s had time to contemplate various aspects of dying, including the high cost of burial plots.
“If my family spent $20,000 to plant me, I’d come back and haunt them,” he said.