Commission to look into grave concerns being voiced across Borders

Councillor Davie Paterson at Hawick's Wellogate Cemetery.
Councillor Davie Paterson at Hawick's Wellogate Cemetery.

An organisation safeguarding the resting places of 1.7m Commonwealth armed forces personnel killed in the first and second world wars has been urged to intervene in the ongoing row over grass-cutting in the Borders.

The furore over this year’s reduction in how often grass is cut across the region is showing no signs of dying down, and now Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson is calling on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to add its voice to calls on Scottish Borders Council to do a U-turn.

Many of the region’s fallen from the 1914-18 and 1939-45 wars are buried in graveyards here, including St Cuthbert’s, Wellogate and Wilton cemeteries in Hawick, and Mr Paterson says it’s an insult to their sacrifices to have memorials overgrown with grass.

He said: “I have written to the commission and told them that the ruling administration at Scottish Borders Council made a cost-saving measure to reduce the number of cuts to several areas in the Borders, including cemeteries, from every 10 working days to every 20 working days.

“I informed the commission that this meant, in reality, it could well be over a month before some cemeteries get cut and that in the Hawick area we have the Wilton and Wellogate cemeteries.

“I asked if there were any Commonwealth war graves in these cemeteries or in St Mary’s churchyard or in St Cuthbert’s churchyard, which they have confirmed there are, and would it be possible for them to write to the chief executive at the council about the length of the grass, as in some cases the grass is taller than the gravestones themselves.”

A spokesman for the commission has confirmed it has three war graves at St Cuthbert’s, 50 at Wellogate and 20 at Wilton on its books, adding: “The commission is unaware of any complaints made regarding overgrown war graves in the Hawick area.

“However, if any recent photographs of these war graves could be forwarded to us that would illustrate such an issue, this could be forwarded to our regional manager for his investigation.”

Hawick and Denholm councillor Clair Ramage also wants the cutbacks reversed, and she said: “The grass-cutting, or the lack of, has yet again been the main complaint from the public in the last couple of weeks.

“As I have walked around, many people have stopped me about this issue, which they find unacceptable.

“I have also had many complaints about the state of local cemeteries which has obviously upset many people.

“I walked around Denholm Cemetery, and it was sad to see grass as high as some of the headstones and some graves completely lost because of this policy.

“I spent some time driving around taking photographs to send to Scottish Borders Council which highlight this issue.

“The claim that it is in the name of biodiversity does seem a bit disingenuous and reflects a total lack of compassion for the families involved.

“We realise there has to be cuts to services, but there also has to be a balance.

“The entrances to our towns and villages have to entice the tourists in but, unfortunately, I fear that they will just drive on as our town is looking unkempt.”