Results under pressure. Imogen Merridew, 16, a photography A-Level student at Avonbourne Sixth Form in Bournemouth, on work experience with Deep South Media, was given an assignment with a tight deadline – to produce a photo-essay about a suburban space. Imogen visited the churchyard at St John the Baptist in Moordown, Bournemouth. With a keen eye for detail and symbolism, this is her story, under the headline ‘The Stories the Dead Tell’.
Never have I felt as empty as in a graveyard. Walking among the dead, many of whom are forgotten souls, their memory only preserved in weather beaten headstones.
Leaves cover graves and ivy grows up headstones and no one who knew them is alive to remove it.
The graveyard feels removed from reality. Few people walk through it, and the silence is deafening. Time feels like it’s moving very slowly as I take photographs.
I wonder about these people’s lives, about the people they left behind, I wonder if there’s anyone still here, wishing they were alive, putting flowers on their graves and telling people stories about them.
“I hope to see my pilot face to face when I have crossed the bar”.
One grave stood out.
It seemed like the headstone was rusting, the auburn colour travelling slowly up the grave.
His name was Henry Ball. He died when he was 38 on the H.M.S Goliath May 13th 1915.
He was one of 570 who were killed on H.M.S Goliath after she was torpedoed three times, by the Ottoman destroyer Muâvenet-i Millîye, during the Gallipoli campaign in WW1. The Gallipoli campaign was the only major victory of the Ottomans before their Empire fell.
Henry Ball was among the 160,790 British casualties and 302,000 Allied causalities in the ten months, three weeks, and two days of fighting.
His gravestone, though rusting and old, held a piece of history in its words. He wasn’t forgotten.
“Iota H Sigma”
Other headstones were noticeable because of their obvious neglect. Ivy ran up the otherwise relatively new looking marble headstones.
Others looked their age; they were weather beaten, rain and wind making the loving inscription hard to read. Some had moss covering them and looked like they hadn’t been seen to in decades.
The saddest ones to look at were the broken ones.
They had been forgotten to the point that someone had smashed the headstone and no one had come do anything about it. It felt as though even in this church, this place of worship and supposed sanctuary, not even death was sacred.
The headstone had fallen backwards and cracked diagonally through the cross. It seemed like it had been there since at least autumn as it was surrounded by leaves.
The broken headstone was inscribed with IHS. Through my own research I’ve found that it can mean a lot of things, but it all comes back to Jesus Christ.
It could be Jesus’s initials in Greek, or it could mean ‘Iesus Hominum Salvator’ or ‘Jesus saviour of mankind’, and it can also be traced back to an 8th century Latin phrase ‘Dn ihs chs rex regnantium’, which translates to ‘Jesus Christ is the king of all kings’. It’s more common in Catholic churches.
“Be Courageous” – an epitaph on the headstone of a former headmistress of a school in Bournemouth
However, despite the gloom and neglect, there is new life in this graveyard. Some of which has been around for years, others only appearing because its spring.
Yew trees are commonplace in graveyards. They were held sacred by Druids, pre-Christian era, as they observed the trees longevity and regeneration and came to symbolise death and resurrection.
They also would’ve been aware of the tree’s toxicity. However, now it has been found to be useful when treating illnesses including cystitis, headaches, neuralgia and possibly some cancers.
Themes of death and resurrection continue into the Christian era, with the deceased being buried with yew shoots, pictured here at the churchyard, as a custom, and boughs of yew being used as ‘Palms’ in churches at Easter.
Yew trees have a religious connotation, to the extent that very old specimens are rarely found outside of church grounds.
Some, such as the one growing beside Fortingalls’ church, Perthshire, Scotland, may even predate Christianity itself, and experts have estimated its age between 2,000 and 3,000 years.
Among the yew trees were daffodils and primroses. Daffodils are synonymous with spring; they are associated with new life and rebirth, as they are one of the earliest flowers to bloom.
They belong to the narcissus family and this gets its name from the Greek god Narcissus. He was so enamoured with his reflection in the river that he drowned attempting to capture it – soon after daffodils grew on the river banks and became associated with Narcissus because of their beauty and bright colour.
It is also said the river felt guilt for removing something so beautiful from the world so made up for it by creating these flowers.
In medieval English folklore if you looked at a daffodil and your gaze caused it droop, it was an omen of your impending death.
Primroses are something different. Primroses, below, generally symbolise youth, because they flower early in the spring, but they have a darker side of history to them.
Primroses are often in graveyards because they have a hidden meaning of not being able to live without your partner. Folklore says they grow in graveyards because of the people who gave themselves up after their lover died because the pain of the broken heart was too much.
They can often symbolise birth, life, and death. They are also traditionally the Norse god of love, Freya’s, sacred flower. This could also explain why they’re in graveyards, as the people buried there are, or were, loved.
“How slow the hands of time while we’re apart.”