June 6, 2019
“Strange grave…no, it is a startling grave. What is this grave doing here?”
Every time I visit London, I take a long walk in Coldfall Wood. The forest has been here for at least 400 years dominated by trees so large
and ancient that the sunshine cannot reach the forest floor. Huge oak trees dominate the skyline with hundreds of Hornebeam trees filling in
the canopy. As a result the forest is delightfully open except where foresters have used chain saws to get a little light to the forest floor.
Coldfall Wood is not my only reason to be here. Besides the Wood is an ancient graveyard with old gravestones all askew because no one seems to care
about this graveyard. No grass is cut. No shrub is pruned. No gravestone is straightened. No strangling tangle of holly is removed. With the
result that this huge graveyard near East Finchley, North London, seems forgotten. Deliberately so. The decision to let the graveyard
become a tangled garden of wild plant and home for small wild creatures was deliberate.
There are trails that wave randomly through the graveyard. Foot paths taken by a few dog walkers and perhaps a derelict or two looking
for a place to sleep. A hiding place. Some young Lodoners have built a tree fort high high in the branches of one immense bech tree…room
enough for a two storey structure of broken pallets. The fort is as hidden as the graves.
On this visit, perhaps my tenth, I decided to walk along a very overgrown path. Had to push my way through a dense Holly grove. “What is that?
Looks recent, a grave not festooned with wild plants.” … “Something familiar about the grave…looks like the thousands of similar gravestones
in France. An incised Maple Leaf.” Easy to read the stone… grave of Prvate W. T.
Toghill, 13th battalion, Canadian Infantry, buried here on November 16, 1916. He was 33 ;years old.
Someone knows that private Toghill is buried here. The stone has been in place for 103 years and yet it has no ivy, no tree roots crossing
the place where Private #132310 lies. But why is he not buried with other Canadians in the special graves of soldiers killed in World War I.
And I wonder who keeps this grave so clear.