It’s Sunday afternoon. The month and year January 2023. The vicinity, my daughter’s married home town, Bonnyrigg. I was minding my grandsons. Life does indeed go in circles. My paternal granddad lived in Bonnyrigg, but I’ve yet to find out if that was his birth town, and one day, I will. The large cast iron gates to the churchyard stand open and we walk through them towards the church. An electric blue bicycle leans small against the huge dusty red sandstone wall, greeting us. ‘Excuse us pretty bicycle, we are here for a task,’ I silently say. It’s cold but bright, and sparrows sing their winter song, a song almost as bright as the chirruping chap walking by my side. My younger grandson.
It’s not exactly the riveting Sunday theme people do with their grandchildren, visiting graveyards, but to be fair, I treated him first. While my older grandson watched the Hearts match with his friends, we dined out, at Burper King, filling ourselves with salty, starchy grub, not to mention fizzy raspberry Fanta. The youngest is seven, so still easily pleased. He was very excited to be sitting in a half empty fast food joint with his granny, as well as a bit puzzled at her lack of skill with the fizzy drinks machine, which spat out ice slithers, and then refused to produce the sugary liquid. A little buttering up and a laugh before a bit of grave searching does no one any harm.
The grave yard had spreadeagled further up the hill from the church, and in the distance, we see a lot of black shiny stones with gold or silver leaf words. Those indicate the more recent dead. Flowers adorn them, along with ornaments and tokens of love. We turn to the job at hand and begin walking around the graves next to the church, along a path fringed with brown crusty leaves from the beech trees. A large yew, the grandfather of trees, stands behind a railed off section with large monuments to the dead, and I know we won’t find our lair here. We look at the many smaller stones, the writing faint, some covered in moss, some totally wasted, fallen, unknown. Needle in haystack comes to mind.
David J. H. Currie. That’s who we’re looking for. He was my grandad’s brother, so my uncle of sorts. We, my brother and I, came across him while doing a family tree. Bro is concentrating on the close family, grannies, grandads, great grannies, great grandads and the like, but I’m branching off, due to a splinter of information I came across in the local library. Here I found a book which attracted my attention. A book of remembrance, noting and naming all those killed at work in the mines. My grandfather was a miner, and although he survived working down mine shafts my curiosity drove me to look through this book. I came across the name David Currie from Cockpen. Knowing my grandad lived in Cockpen, Bonnyrigg, I took note of this David Currie, killed aged 37 in 1937. The very morning of my library visit, my brother sent me a list of our granddad’s siblings. There was a David Currie. Further investigation, ploughing through names on the Scotland’s People site, proved it was him. My grandad’s brother. I was therefore now compelled to look for his grave, only assuming he’d be buried (not sure cremations were as common in 1937) and in Cockpen Churchyard.
‘Great uncle David was a miner,’ I say to my grandson. ‘An ordinary working man. Those large, needle stones, or the ones holding urns, or large iron egg timers are the graves of the rich. We’re not looking for one of those.’ We pass lots of large pillared grave stones, some behind ironwork, some under the trees, but we’re looking for a small stone, a grave stone for an ordinary working man. We tread through leaves, feet sinking into the spongy damp layers, we tread on mud on the edge of the path, we try not to tread on the graves. ‘We must respect the dead,’ I say.
‘David Currie had been killed underground, when a roof caved in,’ I say. ‘Why was he in a cave?’ my grandson asks. ‘He wasn’t in a cave, he worked in a mine, digging for coal, and the roof of the mine collapsed, killing him.’ ‘He should have got money for that.’ ‘What?’ ‘Digging for coal, like digging for gems.’ ‘He did get money. He got paid for working down the mine.’ Only not enough for a big pillared grave stone, I thought. ‘Jesus had one of those,’ says the child as we pass a large cross grave stone. ‘The cross,’ I say. ‘It’s a symbol of Christianity.’ The child nods. The ground is uneven but we step carefully, up and down the rows and rows of stones. There’s no one else here. Just us. Cars pass by, over the wall, on down the road as people go about their business, totally unaware of our quest to find David.
We walk around to the back of the church, still checking grave stones, eyes flicking from one to another, names upon names, beloved people, interred below. We come to one, protected by the large walls of the church and a dyke behind it. It’s under a tree. The carving in the stone tells us that this person had died in 1937. Would David Currie be nearby? There was no one by that name around, and some blank, the names scrubbed from the surface by the elements.
We walk around to the other side of the church and see a hill down to the bottom wall of the churchyard. Hundreds of stones are laid neatly out, in arcs and lines. I shiver in the late afternoon breeze. ‘If we don’t find David Currie in the next ten minutes, I think we should give up,’ says my grandson. ‘I agree,’ I say, holding onto his hand, worried that the large stone tablets would somehow or another free themselves from the iron pins holding them, and fall upon him. We carry on, up and down, side to side, the land dipping into a valley. The river is close. Not close enough to hear, but it can’t be far off. More graves. Some legible, some not. Fraser, Johnstone, Dalhousie, Brown, Hamilton. ‘Another few,’ I say. ‘Let’s just check another few.’ We walk on the grass, tentatively, along the rows of graves, peering at the writing. No David Currie.
‘If we don’t find him in the next 2 seconds we should give up,’ says my grandson. ‘Ok,’ I say back, walking just that little bit further, down the hill, now on the gravel path. Grave after grave peers up. Doleful. We keep on searching, praying that we’d find it. We must find it.
‘Wait,’ I say. ‘Look. That’s it. There he is. David J. H. Currie, killed in Burghlee Mine in 1937. Sadly missed. My eyes water, my heart skips a beat, and I hug my grandson. ‘We’ve found him.’ Just then a robin appears. Sits on a stone right by us. It flutters from one stone to another and eventually flies onto David Currie’s stone. We stand in silence thinking of this man neither of us had ever met, watching the little red breast, as he watches us. It’s surreal. Like it knows, in that small moment, we’d brought David back to life.
2 thoughts on “Branching Out”
I found myself wanting to skip to the end to find out if you did find the grave…but I held off. : ) And it ended on a poignant note. What a lovely piece.
Thanks Ian. I was amazed that I did find it, and so pleased.