A visit to Sherborne St John

While the weather is reasonable I started to tackle the graves that I could assist the British War Graves Project with. One of the places on this list is Sherborne St John, a small (and really old) village roughly 1,8 miles from where I live. Its not an impossible walk, but a blocked road meant I had to make a considerable detour from my planned route.  The walk was a bit dangerous, taking me through country lanes that have no pavements or places to dive into when about to be run over by a maniac on a cellphone driving a German sedan.
The area became rural very quickly, and very pretty too. It always amazes me how different the UK is from back in SA. I kind of like the all pervading green; in South Africa the grass would have been dry and dead and dismal. In the UK it is green and lush and kinda muddy underfoot. My target was St Andrews Churchyard, with two CWGC graves in it, one of which was a Canadian nurse. Fortunately navigation within Sherborne St John was straight forward and before I knew it I was at the church.
I am really becoming a fan of these lytchgates, some are really beautiful, and this one was no exception. This particular one had a brass plaque on it,which made me think about how much has passed through that small wooden construction, and how many only made the passage in one direction?  
The churchyard was startlingly beautiful, it was just one of those places that took my breath away. I am always amazed to see some of those old graveyards and churches, the sense of history you get once you stand amongst the headstones is just so amazing. It is just so difficult to imagine the lives of those who are buried here so many years after the fact. Of course it is not only the lives of the people, but the country that they lived in which has changed,  they could never have imagined the era we are in now, but it is equally difficult to transpose yourself backwards through time to walk these pathways and see these headstones when they were newly laid.
sherborne_st_john 028
The church itself does not seem too old, although it is always very difficult to date these buildings. However, it appears as if a church seems to have been built here about the year 1150, the chancel being rebuilt in the middle of the 14th century. The tower was added in the 14th century, but was almost wholly rebuilt in 1837. The north aisle is an addition of 1854; the chancel roof was restored in 1866, and in 1884 a thorough restoration was undertaken.(http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/hants/vol4/pp158-171)

My first CWGC grave was easy to find, the distinctive headstone against a hedge did not really need much looking for. However, the second would be more difficult as it was a private memorial, which meant I could be looking for anything. Fortunately I found my nurse, and was able to photograph her grave so very far from her home.

The grave of Lena Aloa Davis

On 19 August 1916 Lena Davis was recorded as having contracted Malaria and was invalided to England and by 27th March 1917 it was suggested that there were no more signs of infection and that she had returned to her nursing duties with regular medical checks. However, on 17th April she was re-admitted to Moore Barracks Hospital having been in contact with another Nursing Sister who had contracted diphtheria. Her malaria condition returned and she was readmitted to hospital some time before February 1918. The 4th Canadian General Hospital, Basingstoke War Diary for March 1918 records as follows –
17.2.18 – N/Sister L.A. Davis placed on “DANGEROUSLY ILL LIST” (Blackwater Fever)
21.2.18 – N/Sister L.A. Davis, C.A.M.C. died
22.2.18 – N/Sister L.A. Davis buried

(Information from a post at https://www.rootschat.com/ 

I am especially fond of finding graves like this because the families may never have seen these graves, and it is only since photography has become cheap and easy that we are able to finally take the photographs, but unfortunately too many years too late.

My original Google Earth view had indicated that there was an additional cemetery/churchyard not 100 metres from the church, and it was probably an overflow from the original graveyard. I headed towards this next.
My supposition was correct, and the graves here are relatively modern, although some of the headstones really look as if they are much older. The row of Yews encompasses a war memorial which I photographed too. These memorials often contain names that do not always exist on Rolls of Honour and its always a good idea to have the names off them.
That was it. Time to head back home. My route would take me past the local duck pond to quack at the local ducks. They probably thought I was quackers.
And back through the churchyard for more pics before finding my way to the bottom of the churchyard where I had spotted a small solitary headstone 

My initial thought was that it was the headstone of a child, or possibly a dissenter, however I did find other graves there, and it was very possible that it was the footstone of a grave, the headstone having been toppled. That’s part of the frustration about gravehunting; there are just no hard and fast answers to any questions that you may have.  This wooden fence was interesting though because there were graves on either side of it, which led me to think that it may have been a paupers or dissenters area. The answer is probably buried in history, and I would not have an answer on this day. Time was marching and I still had to get home before the light started to fade. I was very tempted to root around in the area a bit more, but I decided to leave it for another day. I have another graveyard to explore in a village close by, and just maybe I will be able to include a return visit to this one too. I know I would love to get into the church. 

And that was it. I was on my way home. It was a fantastic graveyard, with some really beautiful headstones and the inevitable mystery. And of course there were family plots, and soldiers and lichen, and that made it my sort of place.

Update: 25 December 2014.
Following on from my trip to Monk Sherborne on Christmas, I wanted to update this post slightly. The church is not too far from there, and I came home via Sherborne St John as I wanted to see if it was possible to see the inside of the church. A service was in progress when I arrived, but ended shortly thereafter. I was able to get into the church, and it was really very pretty, but could not take any pics because another service was due to start almost immediately.  There are two separate war memorials in the church and I may see about heading out there again one day to get pics of them. The one odd thing I saw was 4 scooters “parked” close to the gate, and parishioners walking back from the service. It brought back many memories from when we used to attend church back when I was young, although the clothing was much more sombre and less colourful amongst the people. I am not quite finished here yet, there may be another update one of these days.

DRW ©  2014-2021. Images recreated 21/04/2014, image of Lena Davis added 31/10/2020,  image ©  IWM. Retrieved from <a href=”https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205380193″> 
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