Alicia Williams Lady Taphos grave cleaner Bedford Boys CREDIT @LadyTaphos
Alicia Williams sees cleaning graves, particularly the headstones of former serving personnel, as a great honour (Picture: @LadyTaphos).
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The military graves being cared for by a TikTok influencer

Alicia Williams Lady Taphos grave cleaner Bedford Boys CREDIT @LadyTaphos
Alicia Williams sees cleaning graves, particularly the headstones of former serving personnel, as a great honour (Picture: @LadyTaphos).

A woman has found fame on TikTok for cleaning graves, such as the headstones of many US service personnel – including the Bedford Boys, who died in the first wave of the D-Day landings, and Margaret Fuqua, one of the first women to officially serve in the US Navy. 

Alicia Williams from Bedford, Virginia, who goes by the handle @LadyTaphos on TikTok (taphophile means grave enthusiast) says caring for the dead in this way and posting videos of the process has brought her back to life after an intense and bitter divorce, which she is still dealing with a decade later. 

She said: "I was willing myself to not exist... and I didn't know how I was going to get through it so... when I found gravestone cleaning it was like this simple, almost act of penance.

"The more I cleaned, metaphorically speaking, the more I felt better about myself inside." 

Just like the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which cares for the graves of the men and women who died in the First and Second World Wars, Williams' work helps to keep alive the memory of those who have died. 

While Williams herself isn't a veteran, members of her family have served. Her grandmother was part of the Women's Army Corps (WAC) during the Second World War and her father's half-sister's husband fought in D-Day and survived. 

Donald Allen Taylor Act Asst Surgeon US Army grave Alicia Williams Lady Taphos CREDIT @LadyTaphos
Alicia has cleaned the graves of several US service personnel, including Donald Allen Taylor, Acting Assistant Surgeon US Army (Picture: @LadyTaphos).

Thousands of others weren't so fortunate. 

On 6 June 1944, more than 156,000 Allied troops landed on the shores of Normandy, in Nazi-occupied France. 

Known as D-Day, it was the largest amphibious invasion in history. 

Thirty soldiers from Company A, 29th Infantry Division, who hailed from Bedford, Virginia, were in the first wave of assault which began at 06:30. 

While the landings proved to be a success for British, American and Canadian troops, recent research has estimated that about 4,500 Allied Forces died on D-Day. 

Of the soldiers from Bedford, 19 were brutally killed in an instant on Omaha beach, Normandy. 

The 'Bedford Boys', as they are known, are honoured by the National D-Day Memorial located in the town where they grew up. 

Williams is related to several of the Bedford Boys, so, caring for their graves is something she will always do. 

She said: "Ultimately, they were sacrificed as... the likelihood of them surviving that first wave was not good. 

"They were just a bunch of little farm boys, so I always try to make sure that their stones are nice and protected. 


Taking a moment to remember some of Bedford's fallen this Memorial Day.

♬ Memorial Day Tribute Brass Choral - RomanSpivak

"Just a few years ago was the 75th anniversary so we had a lot of people coming to the cemetery wanting to see where the boys were buried. 

"No-one asked me to and I don't think anybody really thought about it, but I did make sure that they were all clean, so they were all looking really nice on the day of the anniversary." 

Another grave Williams has paid particular attention to is that of First World War veteran Margaret Fuqua. 

Born in September 1879, Margaret took advantage of a loophole in the Naval Act of 1916 to enlist as a Yeoman (Female) in the US Naval Reserve. 

Up until this point, women hadn't been allowed to serve in the US armed forces. 

However, when Germany restarted their campaign of bombing merchant and passenger ships, resulting in the deaths of Americans, the country's neutral stance during WW1 shifted and it was clear they had to get involved. 

This sudden need for an increase in service personnel led to the implementation of the Naval Act of 1916 which inadvertently allowed women to join the US Naval Reserve and work in non-combat roles. 

The 'Yeomanettes' as they were known, were the first women to officially serve in the US military, a fact that made Margaret's grave stand out to Williams. 

She said: "I thought... wow, that's pretty neat that she's here and she's a World War I veteran, she gets this recognition, that honour. 

"Obviously, not many females in America would have that recognition and that honour so I was rather touched by her experience and knowing that's what she had done in life. 

"Margaret was married and widowed three times. She never had any children. 

"There was no-one left to remember her significant part in history." 

@ladytaphos Resharing Margaret's story for Veterans Day. Thank you for your service. 🇺🇸 #gravestonecleaning#wwi#america#veteran#veteransday#thankyou♬ original sound - Alicia 🪦 LadyTaphos

This is when Williams' simple act of kindness comes into play. 

By cleaning these graves, including those of civilians, she is playing a small part in remembering their contribution to society, no matter how small or large. 

She is also looking after her own mental health. 

After her divorce was finalised, not being able to be with her children every day and being estranged from her own family threw Williams' life into turmoil. 

Her discovery of grave cleaning, and how therapeutic she found the process, helped Williams to transform her life. 

She said: "Something that became oddly metaphorical to my healing process was realising like 'oh wow [the graves are] going to look a lot better right away' but the real transformation is going to come in time as the product works." 

Like a weed in a garden, surface dirt on headstones, such as moss, algae, lichen, fungus and mould root, gets very deep within the porous stone, so the process of cleaning a grave can take months but, as Williams explains, it's important to have a gentle touch. 

The grave cleaning enthusiast uses D2 biological solution, plenty of water and, very importantly, soft bristles, saying: "If you wouldn't use it on your car or your grandmother's china dishes then don't use it on a gravestone." 

The taphophile's most viewed video has so far been watched 36.5 million times, leading to her amassing 2.7 million followers. 

The short 31-second clip shows Williams cleaning the grave of Eliza F Stott who died on Christmas Day in 1919, aged 80. 

After spending so much time with the dead and discovering their stories, Alicia has learned that it doesn't matter who you are or what you achieve – we all are guaranteed the same outcome. 

Like the famous saying written by Founding Father Benjamin Franklin in 1789: "... in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes". 

Williams often thinks of the Bedford Boys' "youth" and "innocence", saying: "They were just babies, starting out in life. 

"Young 20-year-old men who had barely had a chance to experience anything in the world. 

"Most of them had never been out of the town of Bedford." 

Williams says many of the graves she cleans belong to people whose life stories might be "suppressed because of race or they're forgotten because it was a woman, or they didn't have kids to remember them". 

Learning about the lives of the service personnel whose graves she cleans has left her acutely aware of their sacrifice, so she sees caring for their headstones as a task of great importance. 

But, while the men and women who fought and died for our rights as citizens made their mark, Williams says we must all leave behind a legacy that has a lasting impact. 

"Our story is what we make it," she says.

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