Remembrance during Covid-19 was a challenge for people everywhere. Lockdown restrictions made in-person services difficult or impossible, and the sense of comradeship that typically comes with such events was hampered by the pandemic. 

For a group of committed volunteers on Uist, though, these challenges were what it took to motivate a project that went far beyond the scope of a typical Remembrance activity: placing a poppy cross on every single war grave on the island.  

Key to the project’s success were Uist branch chair Derek Collins, plus members Martin Butler, Pat Holtham and Dave Lister (who sadly passed away earlier this year) – all of them veterans in their own rights. 

“We’re a very small Legion branch up here,” explains Martin. “There’s maybe just under 50 members total, but we’re a spread out place: it’s about 80 miles from one end of Uist to the other. When Covid-19 came, obviously we stopped meeting but when we started up again towards the end of the pandemic, Dave said, ‘What are we going to do to get back up to normal with Remembrance?’” 

Over several discussions – and a few pints – the idea to mark all the Commonwealth War Graves (CWG) was born. When trying to get more information, it was realised that more servicepeople’s graves were on the island who hadn’t qualified for a CWG. Community assistance, as well as some research within the team of four and the wider branch, helped to produce a fuller list of graves that were spread right across council-run and disused cemeteries. Next, the team had to find and record them. 

This was no easy task: the team could only access the nearby uninhabited Monarch Isles by boat in the warmer months of the year, for example, and many graves had little-to-no information on the individual buried there. 

It was, however, very rewarding. Martin says, “The reason I like being with the Legion is that sense of community – it’s working together and making it happen. When the idea came along, everyone just thought, ‘Yeah, how can we help?’ 

“Derek would say ‘After church, let’s go for a wander down there to see if we see any war graves or service markings,’ and then we’d go online to do some research. 

“We were lucky that we knew we had a finite space with the island, it wasn’t going to get any bigger, but it took months – getting up to a year – to do it all.” 

Now, Uist branch has a latitude and longitude reference for all the island’s war graves, as well as a photo of each grave and its Remembrance cross. 

If anyone would like to access this information, they can contact Martin by emailing him on [email protected]