A Brockenhurst church bears witness to the enormity of world wars

A Brockenhurst church which tells a telling New Forest tale

There are wars and there are world wars, we would do well to consider the enormity.

Mark and Hugh signoff 600x400This week Hugh and Mark take a look at one of our churches which is tucked away in one of the quieter locations. It is ancient, simple and beautiful; it also tells a story of war and the staggering numbers who die far too young. The photograph this week has not been turned into a cartoon, it did not seem appropriate to make humour from this nor of the beautiful upper burial grounds and Anzac memorial.  

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The Church of Saint Nicholas is just outside Brockenhurst and well worth a visit; it’s one of only two New Forest churches mentioned in the Domesday Book, written in 1086.

Who could have imagined that one of our churches could be linked to a country eleven thousand miles away?

There is recent history here, just over the road was the site of a large WW1 hospital. The graves in the churchyard are evidence of the joint effort of Commonwealth countries in defeating Germany. It’s easy to find, you just leave the bustling main road with its trucks crashing across the level crossing and in less than a mile you will find tranquility.

Antipodean? Not likely mate, I’m a Kiwi!

A while back I found myself aboard my boat in a French marina, the sun was shining and as I sat there, glass of wine in hand, I noticed a boat exiting the lock which connected the marina to the Canal du Centre. Berthing is almost always tricky and it’s useful to have someone on the pontoon to take a line so I jumped up and gave a hand. In no time the boat was secure and after seeing the distinctive flag fluttering from the stern I said to the fella “Nice to see more Australians in the marina”. His response? “Now look here, we’ve only just met and already you insult us”. Turns out I had missed a crucial difference in the flag. Both Australian and New Zealand flags are similar but the former has white stars whereas the latter has red ones. Turns out I had accidentally insulted these two rather lovely retired Kiwis. No offence was taken at all; if you want to see the difference, take a trip to the church where there is a New Zealand flag proudly on display.


This acronym stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and every year the church celebrates ANZAC Day which is held on the Sunday nearest to the 26th September. This commemorates the military campaign which took place at Gallipoli, a Turkish peninsula situated in the north east of the Aegean Sea. In 1915 the ANZACS mounted an amphibious landing in order to gain control of the surrounding area. In 1916 after a quarter of a million casualties on both sides the campaign was abandoned. The commemoration is held at dawn which is when the landing took place. If you look on the internet for photos of the various ceremonies, you’ll see that many are in near darkness.

This year the memorial was cancelled due to the Corona virus. Things were little different in 1919 for soldiers returning from European battlefields to Australia and New Zealand; the huge influenza outbreak of the time meant that indoor public gatherings were prohibited. An outdoor ceremony was in fact held but participants had to stand three feet apart and wear masks. Does this sound familiar? What we are enduring today is nothing new.

There are wars and there are world wars

Our brace of regular readers will be aware by now of my feelings towards sabre rattling politicians who from the safety of their offices send our young men away to kill or be killed. The First World War was unique in that for various reasons a multitude of politicians of varying nationalities simultaneously scented blood. And so it was that amongst other nations New Zealand sent the flower of its youth to fight and die in a land it had never seen before and would likely never see again. I suppose that it takes a politician like Churchill who has actually fought on the front line to understand the horrors of war and thus to try to avoid it wherever possible. He famously said ‘meeting jaw to jaw is better than war’, true words indeed. Prime ministers and Presidents of today don’t appear to have remembered their history.

Having been trained to kill others, young men of many nations found themselves travelling vast distances in order to fight other young men who were considered ‘the enemy’. Tragically, little has changed.

Blessed are the wounded

We all know that wars kill but for every combatant killed there are many more wounded. The actual numbers vary enormously (something I find incredible) but in the region of 18,000 New Zealanders were killed in WW1 with just over 40,000 wounded. Thanks to the excellent road links between the docks at Southampton and Brockenhurst these wounded came to the many hospitals that had been established in the area. For some, nothing more could be done and they’re buried in the churchyard in front of an impressive memorial stone.

It’s a common sight to see people wandering around a churchyard, lost in their own thoughts. We all face the same end of course. Reading the dates on the headstones often reveals a life of a good many years; three score and ten being the accepted good average; just imagine, seventy glorious summers. For the Commonwealth graves it’s a different story. These victims were only just entering adulthood, their lives cut short. It’s certainly a place for contemplation.

Would yew believe it (sorry, sorry for my awful pun)

There is an enormous yew in the church yard which is a common place for these plants to be found. Some say that the funereal appearance of the tree is an ever-present reminder of our short term here on earth; how very gloomy. Others say that the tree affords protection against strong winds. Somehow, I can’t see it, I’m no structural engineer but one look at this church tells me that it’ll take more than a puff of wind to knock it down, just ask the big bad wolf. Hugh and I paid a visit and I reckon the walls are around three feet thick. My own slant on the matter is that because yew is so toxic the tree simply cannot be tolerated anywhere else. Let me give you an example of the toxicity of this huge organism. In 2018 nine Hampshire cattle died after someone stupidly dumped yew clippings in their field. I’m sure that you’ll join me in hoping that this was accidental and not malicious.

The St Nicholas yew has been carbon dated and found to be one thousand years old. This would have made it one-hundred years old when the New Forest was first established. Now there’s a thing to contemplate over your next chilled glass of white.

Give your soul a little time

We live in a hectic world. Thanks to the miracle that is modern communications we are always in touch with others. Phones have a do not disturb function, why not use it? Friends and family can afford to give you an hour to yourself and you could certainly use it.

gravestones and memorial in churchyard


If you have relatives or friends who live in New Zealand, why not visit St Nicholas church and send them a picture of the ANZAC memorial.  

More tales and cartoons for Lymington and the New Forest from Mark and Hugh

If you'd like to read previous articles on diverse subjects written by Mark and illustrated by Hugh's cartoons, just click here!


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