A Remembrance Walk
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget. Siegfried Sassoon
As autumn marches on, things are starting to wind down here at Milne Graden. Now the hustle and bustle of peak salmon-season has passed, the pace is slower, and we are savouring the last days of autumn before the winter chill begins to whisper its arrival around our ears.
Being on the Tweed means there still salmon to be had, and there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy a cast along the river beats. However, no matter what the time of year, no fishing on Sunday means a restful day can be had by all.
Everyone likes to reserve Sundays for doing the things they love, be it long walks with the dog, nesting in the kitchen, or spending a cultural day out. It is so important to allow ourselves the opportunity to appreciate the small joys, never more so than this week, when we also take the time to remember.
At this time of year Remembrance Sunday is in all our thoughts, and only a walk from Milne Graden, at the recently renovated Lennel Kirk, lies a chance to focus the mind during the last glimmers of warmth from the late autumn sun. Lennel Kirkyard is also part of the Commonwealth War Graves network, and several graves of the fallen lie within its walls.
Built around 1126, the Kirk (a Scots word for a church) served the community of Lennel and surrounding area – this would have included Milne Graden – but over the centuries had been allowed to fall into disrepair. By the early 1700s, nearby Coldstream had become a burgeoning town on the banks of the River Tweed, and a new, much larger parish church was built in its centre.
With the Medieval Kirk now largely forgotten, nature continued to take the building back to the earth, leaving the site in a dangerously ruinous state, until Coldstream and District Local History Society (operating as Community Interest Company Coldstream’s Heritage Ltd) began the process of bringing order to the remains.
From previous archeological activity on site, it is known that some of the graves date back to the 15th century and the aim is to conserve and uncover as much of this historic value as possible. In addition to the restoration of the Kirk, efforts are ongoing by the Society to transcribe and photograph all of the Kirkyard’s headstones, the hope is to discover further insights into the people who have been laid to rest within the site. The past is tightly woven into the backdrop of modern Borders culture, and this project is creating a valuable resource for anyone looking to trace family history in the Coldstream area – as the Society says, “a kirkyard tells age story of a community”.
As I wander amongst the headstones, the awareness of this is overwhelming. These are monuments to lives lived and lost, the beginning and end of which is documented, but I cant help but wonder what happened in between. I imagine the people behind the words, picturing what their day-to-day lives might have involved – cooking a meal, working the land, laughing with their children – it seems the colour of life is sorely missing from the grey stone markers.
There are seven Common Wealth War Graves at the Lennel site, and as the late afternoon sun casts long shadows across the Kirkyard, I cant help but feel a sadness for those lives lost too soon.
The memory of a young Australian, JHS Lyon, stays with me for the rest of the day and that evening I sit down to see what can be found out about this 21 year old Flying Officer. There is a report, detailing an airborne collision, near Westcott, Buckinghamshire, involving pilot James Henry Scott Lyon – known as “Benny” to his comrades.
I am keen to know more about the life of the this Australian born pilot, and how having died in Buckinghamshire, he has come to be remembered in a little Kirkyard near Coldstream in the Scottish Borders. I delve further into the Society records and discover that Benny’s tale is in part, a love story.
It transpires that Benny, who was in fact, known as Jim to his family, married a local Coldstream girl, Margaret Bruce, but sadly Jim’s death ended their married life before it really begun. Poignantly, Jim was then laid to rest in this young window’s family plot at Lennel Kirkyard. As I read on, I also learn that at the time of her husband’s death, Margaret was pregnant with their only child.
It is heartbreaking to think that this tale of tragedy, would have been echoed by many other couples of the time, not to mention the heartbreak suffered by the famlies left behind. This account of James Henry Scott Lyon is a glimpse into one of the many lives represented by the grey Kirkyard stones and is just a shapshot of the sacrifices made during conflict.
The rich hues of another glorious autumn sunset and my trip to Lennel Kirk, reminds me to be grateful for these wonderful surroundings and to keep striving to delight in the everyday.
NB We are delighted to see the valuable conservation work by CHL, was recently Highly Commended in the Scottish Heritage Angel Awards