15 June 2019
Yesterday, after Commando’s Running School appointment we drove into town to get something from the bike shop in Cumberland Place. There was a coffee in it for me so I didn’t much mind. It was also a chance to walk through East Park and have a look at the Cenotaph.
Over the last couple of weeks there has been a great deal of online griping about Southampton Council not organising a 75th anniversary event to remember D-Day. As a massive event was planned a few miles away on Southsea Common with heads of state from all the nations involved, including Germany and a controversial visit from Donald Trump, I kind of understood why. Even so, Southampton was the embarkation port for British and Canadian troops and two thirds of the entire British assault forced passed through the port en route for the Normandy beaches. It was also the embarkation port for reinforcement troops over the following weeks. It seemed a shame not to have some kind of ceremony, albeit small, in the city where so many of the soldiers departed never to return.
On 3 June a gentleman called Bill Reynolds took matters into his own hands. Instead of grumbling he did something. He cleaned the area around the cenotaph and posted online urging all the moaners to fill the empty space in front of the cenotaph with flowers from their gardens to honour all the lost men. It was a beautiful idea. It also galvanised the powers that be into action and a small remembrance service was hastily organised. Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend but I’d seen photographs of the floral tributes and knew people were changing them regularly to keep the idea going. Yesterday was the first chance I’d had to see the flowers and I was delighted at just how beautiful they looked, even in the hot sun.
This morning I found myself looking at flowers of a different kind. While Commando was running parkrun, I took my usual Saturday morning stroll around the Old Cemetery. It was a breathtakingly beautiful riot of wildflowers and greenery. At least at first…
Every week I try to walk along different paths, stopping now and then to look at interesting graves, read an inscription or two or just see what Mother Nature has been up to. Today, as I approached the oldest part of the cemetery, I realised something looked very different. It took me a little while to realise what it was, probably because of the early hour and the lack of caffeine.
The cemetery was opened in 1846 and is one of England’s earliest municipal cemeteries. The majority of the graves are very old and, as many of the occupants have no one left to remember them, remain largely untended. There are still a handful of burials in family plots each year but, today, the cemetery is part graveyard, part historical curiosity and part nature reserve. It covers twenty seven acres and is maintained to preserve the diversity of wildlife and wildflowers. Grass cutting and other general cutting back are carried out at different times of year and varying frequencies in different areas depending on the species prevalent in each part. The oldest part of the cemetery appears to have had its turn to be spruced up and trimmed fairly recently.
Those who like to moan and grumble can often be heard complaining about the overgrown state of the place. Personally I love that is is partly wild. There is something comforting in seeing the way nature reclaims everything eventually. Yes, it does mean that some graves are hard to find, as I discovered last summer when I tried to find photographer Francis Godolphin Osbourne Stuart’s grave. It took weeks of searching and, when I did find it, it was so overgrown by brambles I had a terrible job getting close. Patience is a virtue in this case though, as is a little persistence. As each area has its turn to be cleared previously hidden graves reappear. Today Stuart’s grave was one of them.
With no brambles to trip me and no long grass to hide potholes, ruts and mounds it was a simple job to walk between the graves. When I reached the photographers grave I found I could easily get right round it and frame just the shots I wanted. It was even possible to get a close up shot of the inscription.
In terms of grave hunting the trimming back and bramble clearing is a great success. Having said that, I think I prefer the wildness to the cut back look any day. Still the wildness will soon return and I suppose things do need a little taming from time to time or we would probably not be able to find the cemetery at all, never mind walk the paths.
Despite getting my long awaited pictures of the photographer’s grave I was glad to get back to the unmown area. The chapel, at least from the front, looked stunning with pink roses clambering around its green doors. The ground around was sprinkled with fallen petals like confetti after a wedding.