Thursday 10 March 2011

Oh no, no Oenanthe!

Walthamstow had their first yesterday, and I was out on the Flats at dawn. I met Tim there, so keen he had arrived before dawn. Together we criss-crossed the Flats, looking for that flash of white. It was not to be, and the barrage hitches continued to look like this, which is what they've looked like for the last 174 days (to save any nerds reading this five minutes of valuable time, it was Sept 17th). Try again tomorrow I suppose, my enthusiasm remains undulled. Can't wait in fact.

Assuming that you've had enough (for today) of my obsession with Wheatears, I thought I'd head off on another tangent. Whilst birding in St Mary's Churchyard next to the golf course a couple of weeks ago - looking for Nuthatch, to remain slightly on-topic - I was amazed to find a handful of war graves. Many [many] years ago I did a project on the First World War, and visited some of the battlefield memorials - Vimy Ridge, Thiepval, Notre Dame de Lorette. These are vast - monumental you might say - memorials. The first Canadian, the second British and Commonwealth, and the third French. Thousands upon thousands of names carved into stone, you cannot fail to be moved. However it was the smaller cemeteries that made more of an impression on me.  Tiny, sometimes with fewer than twenty headstones, yet all walled, they dot the landscape, set in corners of famers fields, at crossroads, at the edge of villages.  Each one perfectly maintained, exquisitely cared-for. The lawns were the most impressive. Everyone knows that the french just don't do lawns, however these tiny roadside cemeteries all had lawns the equal of the greens on the Old Course at St Andrews.

In the British cemeteries, the stones are all white, made of Portland stone. Rectangles with curved tops, they stand in neat rows, impervious to the elements even after this long. The stones in St Mary's Churchyard are identical, and have weathered far better than their granite contemporaries. I found three on my initial visit, and four when I returned a couple of days ago. Three from WWI, and one from WW2.

E F Hayter, aged 38, 2nd March 1917
William Harold Shail, aged 19, 19th May 1918

G A Callow, aged 30, 28th February 1919
David Edward Lloyd, aged 22, 17th March 1942

I'm afraid to say that the cemetery at St Mary's is not a patch on those in France and Belgium. It is extremely higgledy-piggledy, with no nice lawn. Not that those in it care much I don't suppose, but it feels wrong somehow, it should be neater. As far as I know, the fallen were not repatriated, which led me to wonder if these four men had died in this country. A quick google search reveals that this is indeed the case for at least two of the four, with G A Callow dying at home after the war had ended, and D E Lloyd, an instructor, killed when his Spitfire collided with another in mid-air over Hayes in Middlesex.


  1. Hello Jono,
    I used to sit in St Mary's cemetary (the one in Kensal Green) during lunchbreaks a few years back and was always struck by how the war graves - dotted amongst the other graves in this sprawling, sometimes overgrown cemetary - were always pristine and surrounded by their own patches of neatly trimmed lawn. What also struck me was how young some of these servicemen were. Just so we don't forget the main topic, there was also a small population of Linnets at St Mary's - to date the only place I have seen them in London.
    Happy Wheatear hunting!

  2. Mines a Fosters.

    Pint of.


  3. I don't know, you come in here, grafitti-ing my blog, leaving dumb comments, and you expect a pint. And Fosters at that....