In my quest to photograph war graves I tend to watch out for churches, and I spotted this church as I went through Mortimer Station on my way to Swindon
in January. It was quite a large spire, easily seen and really worth a day trip because it was reasonably easy to get there by train, and with a spot of decent weather this morning I grabbed my goodies and headed out, catching the local between Basingstoke and Reading.
The trip didn’t even take 15 minutes, and by my reckoning if I could grab my pics I could dash back to the station in time for the 11H48 train. After all, there were only 5 CWGC grave to find, how difficult is that?
The church is a quick walk away and I was feeling very confident by the the time I got there.
It almost feels as if the church is too big for the rural setting that I was in, although the village of Mortimer
is quite a large one if you see it from the aspect of Google Earth.
The church of St Mary the Virgin was built in 1869 on an old site. It is a large building designed in the early 14th-century style, and consists of a chancel, north chapel, and south organ chamber, over which is a tower. The walls are of squared rubble with external dressings and an internal facing of ashlar and the roofs are tiled. The tower is of three stages and has an octagonal stone spire.The church has a large churchyard with an additional area to the west where modern burials take place.
I did a quick look around before starting my search, there was one standard CWGC headstone, but to my dismay the other 4 were all private memorials which made things a bit more complicated. The problem with PM’s are that often their inscriptions are no longer legible or they are obscured by vegetation. To make my life more complicated I was suffering from battery problems with my phone and was not able to connect to CWGC to see what other information there was apart from the names.
The North side of the church
Generally the information contained at the CWGC will include a grave number or rough location of the grave (West of church etc.), and if you can access the headstone reports there are often descriptions of the headstone (Large cross with kerb). It is also possible to narrow down a possible area using dates, but that can be hit or miss unless the cemetery is laid out in an orderly fashion. Sometimes you find a poppy cross or a poppy wreath to make your life easier, and sometimes there are badges, regiments or corps mentioned on the tombstones.
I was able to find 3 more graves using names only, although the one was more of a fluke than anything else. I was however missing one grave, and it was listed as being “north of the church” (the area to the left of the church in the image above). This area did not have too many graves, but they were not too legible, and some were totally engulfed by vegetation. This was not looking good at all.
By now my train had come and gone, and the next one was due at 11H48, which left me time to find what I was after. I was carrying a spare battery for my phone so was able to do a quick change and access the headstone report which narrowed my field down to a “large cross with kerb”. There were not too many of them in this area so it was a case of checking each one.
The second one I found was a possibility but the inscription was totally overgrown, I would have to come back to it after I had checked the remaining crosses with kerbs. And then I hit paydirt, a large cross which had been toppled was a likely candidate and I was able to read the name after brushing away the leaves. I had found my missing soldier!
The rent was paid, I could take a few more pics then head off to the station.
The church is a pretty one, as oft these country churches are, and it really has an imposing spire. It is probably much bigger than some of the churches in Basingstoke, and I would have loved to see inside of it. Along the south wall there is an area that has been paved with headstones, and I really preferred that to them being used as paths or propped up along the walls.
And a last mystery was the group of headstones all on their own in one corner of the churchyard, were these non-conformists? or a family plot? I will probably never know.
Then I was out the door and heading to the station. It had been quite a hunt, but I had achieved what I wanted.
On my way back I grabbed a long distance shot, it was a really pretty area and I had 6 other parish churches more or less in this area that I had to get pics from. I was not sure if/when that would happen though, but I just hope that they are not as elusive as these graves were.
I got to the station in time, and shortly afterwards they announced that the train had been cancelled due to a “train fault”. I could not believe it. The next train (which was actually the same train) was only due at 12H48. The same train runs on this short line that goes from Basingstoke, Bramley, Mortimer, Reading West and Reading. And if it is broken nobody goes anywhere.
The station is a pretty building, but sadly the toilets were locked. And, there was nothing to see apart from the lines and the station building. I had 70 minutes to use up and I was cold and hungry.
The big conundrum was that if they did not fix the train, I could be stranded here for even longer than an hour, at which point I would probably have really done my nut. I was contemplating heading to a nearby restaurant which was advertising Sunday lunch, but I was too scared to use the money I had with me in case I needed to get a taxi home. Finally, after what seemed like hours the train came around the bend before I went around the bend and I was on my way home.
The moral of the story is that it is not always possible to find all the graves you are after, and occasionally you need additional information to back up your search. Not all wartime casualties are buried with a CWGC headstone on their graves, some were buried by their families, and often that family is no longer able to care for the grave which makes it all the more important that we photograph them before it is too late.
Oh, and don’t think that your train will always be on time.
© DRW 2015-2018. Images migrated 26/04/2016