AS THE STARS THAT ARE STARRY
IN THE TIME OF OUR DARKNESS
TO THE END TO THE END
These words are the last two lines of Laurence Binyon’s poem To the Fallen and were chosen by his family for the headstone of an Uppingham lad, Corporal Charles Maurice Thorpe, RAF, who was killed in October 1939. The fourth verse of this poem (starting with “They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old”) is rather better known, and forms a part of many ceremonies. On the grave of a member of the Royal Air Force, they are hauntingly appopriate.
I had been waiting for summery weather to coincide with a trip to East Lothian so that I could visit the grave, in Dirleton Cemetery, of Pilot Officer Arthur Wescombe Searle, of “Southern Rhodesia”. Eventually it did.
Arthur was the young pilot who was killed when two planes collided over Edinburgh on 5 September 1941. Both pilots ejected, one parachuting to safety, but Arthur’s parachute opened too late to save his life. His plane subsequently crashed into the private garden of the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens. A display board near the gate on Inverleith Row gives information about the incident, and about parts of the plane that were found when work was done in that area of the garden a few years ago. They include, movingly, the clasp which would have been the last object Arthur touched before ejecting.
A bus route between Edinburgh and New Berwick passes near the road leading to the cemetery, and the bus driver helpfully stopped at that intersection, allowing us to avoid having to walk there from the centre of Dirleton. Anyone going by car, should look out for this intersection. A clue is the existence of a Flight Museum in the area, which I imagine must be near the Airfield at Drem. [Update: it’s not. It’s at East Fortune.] While we were at the cemetery, a glider flew overhead.
There are just over 20 Commonwealth War Graves in Dirleton Cemetery, and all are graves of men in the air force, or in other services but with skills that makes it likely they were attached to squadrons based at the nearby Airfield. It was not at all depressing, as cemeteries go. Not low and damp, but situated on high ground, yet sheltered from gusts and gales by a sound, stone wall .
As we approached the graves, I found myself uncannily homing in on the very grave I had come to visit. His parents chose a single word for Arthur’s grave which you can just make out in this photo, immediately below the cross: BELOVED.
You will notice too that these graves are well tended, but also that someone has visited Arthur’s grave, and placed a small wooden remembrance cross in front of the headstone. I had the feeling that the people of Dirleton remember those servicemen who lie here.
Careful study of an online Ordnance Survey map for the 1950s showed several air fields in the vicinity, so of course, these airmen rest here, having been brought ‘home’ to a cemetery near the base out of which they had operated.
Pilot Officer David Bourne, died on the same day as Arthur Searle and is buried in the grave next to his. The word ‘Boy’ seemed full of pride and affection in these words selected by his parents for their son’s grave:
SO YOU CAN STAY
IN THE CLOUDS, BOY
YOU CAN LET YOUR SOUL
To my surprise, there was another South African war grave in this cemetery. I had made a cursory check of the CWGC list for casualty records for Dirleton Cemetery, without realising that there was another pilot from Southern Africa here, killed just nine days after Arthur. He was Pilot Officer Keith Chiazzari, whose grave clearly indicates that he was “of South Africa”. I was interested, on my return to Edinburgh, to find his name on a passenger list for the Capetown Castle, which arrived in Southampton on 23 December 1938. His proposed address in the United Kingdom, “c/o Capt L H Slatter, RAF Feltwell, Norfolk” suggests that the purpose of his trip north was to join the Royal Air Force.
I would have made Keith his own ‘#LestWeForget’ had I known he was South African, so I used an impersonal #LestWeForget in this record of Keith’s memorial for the current CWGC project. I’ll do better next time! Keith came from Pietermaritzburg and I see, checking the White Pages for South Africa, that he may have Chiazzari relatives in KZN. [Update: His nephew in Canada, named after Keith, has since commented on this post.]
Had I also checked the listing for Dirleton Cemetery on the South Africa War Graves Project, I’d have realised there was a second South African buried there. Here’s how to find a South African War Grave in a cemetery near where you live or perhaps even near your holiday destination.
From the Home Page, click on Cemeteries/Countries List. (It’s in the left hand vertical navigation bar.) Click on the country in which the casualty died.
For Dirleton Cemetery, you need to look for the county East Lothian. You will see that there is one grave of a South African serving in a ‘non-SA unit’ (that’s Keith) and one Rhodesian (that’s Arthur). Bill Nimmo is the War Graves Project volunteer who took the photos of the headstones, which you can view if you search the database for Keith or Arthur. If you are a relative, you can request a digital copy of the photo of the grave from the SA War Graves Project. For those with no known grave, the part of the memorial on which the name has been recorded, has also been photographed.
If Keith or Arthur have surviving relatives, we’d like them to know that we found this cemetery a pleasant, sheltered spot. And that gliders circle overhead, as if keeping watch.