Posts Tagged ‘Devon’

Holy Mowers prevent Devon village war dead fading from memory

October 26th, 2014

Donaldson was in all likelihood killed while riding one of the horses towing a gun carriage, and without the intervention of Mr McNab and his friends his name, and that of the other fallen, risked fading into obscurity.

Another of the village’s dead was Major AA Cordner, of the Royal Marines Light Infantry, killed on St Georges Day, 1818, at the age of 28, when his ship HMS Vindictive took part in the Allied raid on Zeebrugge.

Mr McNab, 82, said: “It became obvious two years ago that the lettering of the names on the War Memorial had faded to such a degree that the young Army cadets who read out the names of the fallen in both wars on Remembrance Day could barely decipher them. I just decided we needed to do something about it to make sure the names could be read and that the individual sacrifice of those men would continue to be remembered.”

But the group’s efforts did not stop at simply renovating the memorial’s lettering.

Mr McNab and his friends, Rob Rawlings, Peter Heaton, Robert Clifford and Tim Clifford – collectively known as the Holy Mowers – decided to apply for a grant from the War Graves Commission. With the £750 they received they undertook a complete restoriation of the granite memorial cross and its surroundings in the churchyard of St Andrew’s, Whitchurch.

For several years the Holy Mowers had been cutting the grass and weeding the area around the cross and the nine war graves which surrounded it – some dating back from the 1860s, with another four from the 1914-18 conflict and two from the Second World War.

Now, with the War Graves Commission Grant, they set about repairing the paths around the memorial and cleaning up the cross itself.

“It was apparent that the area surrounding the granite memorial was in an horrendous condition,” said Mr McNab, who served with the Black Watch during the Korean War and in Kenya, followed by 17 years in the Royal Marines. “Working on Saturday mornings we dug the site over and cleared it of weeds, rocks and old tree roots.

“Then we boarded the sides of the site, laid a membarne down and began laying down the gravel – carting it onto the site in 72 barrel loads in one day.”

Finally the memorial’s facing was cleaned and the names re-painted, with the work completed in time for the site to be re-dedicated and ready for next month’s Remembrance Day service.

To keep costs down the Holy Mowers carried out the work themselves, allowing them to spend the grant – and an additional £150 they raised locally – on the necessary materials.

Mr McNab said: “We’d work for two hours and then retire to the local inn for an hour to refresh our ancient bodies. Most of us don’t attend church, but we firmly believe that the churchyard needs to be maintained and the men of the village remembered.”

One recent episode served to illustrate the importance of the group’s labours.

While he was crouched over the memorial, repainting the names of those lost, Mr McNab was approached by a Canadian family.

They had travelled to the village in the hope of finding the resting place of a distant family member, killed in action overseas.

“The family couldn’t find the grave – it’s whereabouts aren’t known – but they did see their relative’s name on the memorial. I fact I’d just been painting that section and they were delighted to see how much care was being taken of the war graves and the memorial itself”, said Mr McNab. “It was a very moving moment.”

World War Two

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