Graves gardener retires

On BBC tonight shocking scenes of burning cars and homes, daylight looting and rioters attacking police –  the worst riots in the UK in 30 years. Brought to mind a recent BBC insert about Jean “John” Moodie who’d spent practically his whole life (joined his dad as a 16-year old) looking after the Battle of the Somme (1916) english war graves in France.

Apparently the British have around 320 gardeners in 27 teams looking after 500 000 war cemetery headstones in France and it costs the British taxpayer a tidy sum. Years of dedicated gardening have produced meticulously tended memorial gardens. According to the about-to-retire head gardener (whose son is also a graves gardener) no flower or shrub is ever allowed to obscure a soldier’s name. In contrast the Germans have opted for a low-maintenance approach with stark plain headstones for their war dead.

It got me thinking; in The Good Cemetery Guide funeral director cum moonlighting guitarist Anthony Loxton, who understands all about future generations continuing the work of their elders, surprises himself by becoming an advocate (or is it an activist?)for park-like cemeteries where the dead can lie in peace and the living can experience comfort in the midst of nature’s ongoing beauty.

All well and good, I’m with my hero in principle but looking after cemeteries is expensive and we’re living in super-difficult economic times (as today’s news clips of rioting and looting prove). The British apparently had their fair share of criticism for celebrating carnage with blooms but they forged ahead with their war gardens regardless. One has to ask though is the “Forever England” approach still appropriate nearly 100 years later? Isn’t it perhaps a tad twee for today’s tough reality of 20% unemployment amongst youth aged 16 – 24 in the UK?

Shouldn’t the British get with it like the super-practical Germans and start cutting back on expensive war cemetery gardens in faraway countries? But I know what Anthony Loxton would be thinking: imagine if we could turn all our ugly depressing cemeteries into beautiful super-safe parks in a picturesque setting where the living could conduct their recreational activities? With utmost respect, of course.

We could take the time to watch the birds around us and bees collecting the nectar of flowers and go jogging on paths next to bubbling streams, with grave headstones just a throw away, and death might not seem so terrifying, so alien, so incomprehensible, but rather part of the natural order of things.


In the case of those flowery war cemeteries in France there must be many an english soldier and survivor (and war cemetery tourist) comforted by the thought that their government honours its debts. Still, maybe an anachronism to the unemployed raging young people burning and pillaging in the UK right now.

P.S. I would have started blogging earlier if I’d known you can edit past posts. Had this idea that what’s posted is posted! Guess I was thinking of a physical mail box…

If you are talking about P.S. when used in writing, it stands for postscript, from the Latin post scriptum, meaning “written after.” It is generally used in letter-writing to indicate something added after the body of the letter was completed and signed.

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