Churchyard Nature Note with Andrew Tompsett

November 2015

The Revd Charles Sargent reflects on the
Commonwealth War Grave Plot at St Illogan


During the past four years, whilst I was chaplain to RAF St Mawgan, I have made at least an annual pilgrimage to St Illogan Churchyard, sometimes more often, to visit and pay respect to those who are buried in the Commonwealth War Graves section of the graveyard.

On one occasion, I was lucky enough to bump into the gardener who has responsibility for all the war graves in the South West of the Country, he was at St Illogan to lay some new turf next to the path where walkers had worn it down. He mows and weeds and plants and tends, making sure the whole area looks neat and tidy.

Have you ever noticed your war memorial in this section of the cemetery? It is called the Cross of Sacrifice, designed by the architect Sir Reginald Blomfield to represent the faith of the majority. Using a simple cross embedded with a bronze sword and mounted on an octagonal base. This type of memorial can be found in cemeteries where there are more than 40 graves.

At St Illogan there are 53 burials: 4 men and women of the British Army; 26 men of the Royal Air Force; 8 men of the Royal Canadian Air Force; 8 men of the Royal Australian Air Force; 6 men of the Royal New Zealand Air Force; and 1 man of the merchant Navy whose death was not war related. 7 men of the Royal Air Force were not identified.

We don’t know if any of the families of those buried at St Illogan have ever visited their loved ones. Last year we unveiled a new gravestone for WO Robert Long from Canada (it had been wrongly inscribed), back then I reflected that his mother and father may never had made the journey to St Illogan, and the same with many of the others buried here. It is our job to make these visits on their behalf. And that is why the Commonwealth War Grave Commission continue to tend these graves.

Most of the war graves at St Illogan have the same headstones. The uniform headstones are only differentiated by the inscriptions: the national emblem or regimental badge, rank, name, unit, date of death and age of the casualty. There is also room for a religious symbol and at the bottom there may be a few words chosen by the family.

Having already mentioned the gardener who tends our plot, there are some interesting facts about the horticulture of the Commission:

“With gardeners and horticultural experts working in 154 countries, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is one of the world’s leading horticultural organisations, making maintenance a year-round task for our 900 gardeners.

“The horticulturalists go to great lengths to ensure that the right plants for the right cemetery are carefully managed and nurtured.  Efficiency and innovation has always been key to the Commission’s way of thinking and much of what we use in our gardens today was developed between manufacturers and the Commission’s horticultural teams to speed up such work as mowing, edging, composting, tree and hedge-trimming and irrigation.” From the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.