"And I saw heaven opened and behold a white horse and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True and in righteousness he doth judge and make war"
Revelation 19:11 (Buittle Parish Church, War Memorial window)
Revelation 19:11 (Buittle Parish Church, War Memorial window)
John’s successor, the Rev. J. M. Haddow, was ordained minister of Buittle parish church on 24 January 1918. Later that year, the Armistice of 11 November marked the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front. With peace restored at last, the thoughts of all parishioners turned to the great collective loss suffered by the parish during the conflict. Mr W.J.H. Maxwell of Munches, one of the church Heritors, commissioned at his own expense a brass mural tablet in memory of the Rev John Davis, which was fitted on the chancel wall.
war memorial windows
In spring 1919, Mr & Mrs Maxwell of Munches approached the respected Edinburgh based artist Douglas Strachan to commission a stained glass window to be installed in the chancel, as a memorial to those from the parish who died in the war. Letters from Douglas Strachan to the Maxwell’s reveal the thinking behind the design:
“As a result of many interviews I have recently had concerning war memorials, I have come to the conclusion that opinion as to the type of subject, which is deemed fitting, is largely determined by the aspect of the war which has most impressed the individual concerned. One is a possessed by an almost crushing sense of the self sacrifice which is characterised by the war; for him every other aspect is comparatively insignificant, while to another this is swallowed up in the vastness and wonder of the victory achieved; to him triumph over the enemy is the theme. As a matter of fact both are wrong, of course, because both are right. Both must be blent into a war memorial. To ignore self-sacrifice in a window dedicated to the memory of the fallen, not only misses a great and noble human note but is manifestly wrong, while to be obsessed by self sacrifice to the exclusion of the victory, which resulted therefrom is equally wrong, stops halfway an idea.
Victory, triumph over the foe no matter how vile that foe may be, is not the noblest memorial to the fallen, and I feel pretty certain that the men, who gave their lives, would be the first to deprecate any over emphasis of their self-sacrifice. Rather the spirit informing the whole should be the triumph over soul and over an evil enemy, for triumph embraces everything - an exalted perception of achievement which yet does not blink the sorrow and loss entailed. Expressed in colour it should not suggest the blair of trumpets over a fallen foe any more than it should in the other extreme suggest mourning: but it should be proud, majestic radiant, for it commemorates the most almighty triumph over tyranny and self that the world has ever known.” (Letter from Mr Douglas Strachan to Mrs Maxwell of Munches, 12 June, 1919)
The final composition was agreed in late April 1920. In the centre light, the Rider of the White Horse, or Michael, representing resurrection; below, the Christian warrior, symbolising the dedication of self to a given service; his gaze turned upwards to the supreme figure riding through the heavens overhead, standing over the slain serpent in the foreground; the warrior in the act of sheathing his sword, representing the evil force overcome. To the left, the side panel shows the crucifixion, representing sacrifice and in the right panel, a pastoral scene depicting the shepherds, in this context, the people of the Earth, on the hillside at night, ashamed by the message of peace on Earth and goodwill towards men. The wreaths at the bases of the left and right panels are thorns and olives respectively: thorns under the Sufferer olives under the peace panel: while these lights have decorations at their tops - the Pelicans, symbol of self-sacrifice, and the Phoenix symbol of resurrection.
“If it "comes" as I see it at present...the windows should express all you want in a clear simple manner:- the central light asymmetrical - the Knight and his triumphant leader: the side panels representing the cost to himself of his service (on the left): the inestimable gain in the service rendered to posterity (on the right)." (Letter from Mr Douglas Strachan to Mrs Maxwell of Munches, 5 November, 1919)
The chancel windows and tablets were dedicated at a service in the parish church on 11 July 1920. The brass tablet bearing the names of the fallen was placed on the wall to the left of the pulpit and is headed by the inscription-“To the glory of God and in memory of the brave men who went from this parish and died for their country in the Great War, 1914-1919, this tablet and the chancel window are dedicated.”
AMARA REVISITED, 1968
In October 1968, just over fifty years after John’s death, his grandson, John Peter, returned to Iraq to find the cemetery in Amara and locate his grave. The following account of John Peter's arrival at the cemetery in Amara is taken from his journal:
Visit to Amara, Iraq, 18th to 22nd October, 1968
Arrived in hotel (10.45pm) in Baghdad on 15.10.1968. On Friday, 18th October, I arrived by lorry lift and my bicycle at the hotel in Amara (rest house Balladiyah, Ammarah) by 7.35am for a glorious shower and breakfast by 8.30am. By 9.45am, I was cycling with the Hotel’s sub-manager, who had his own bicycle to Amara War Cemetery. It is a nice resting place in a terrible countryside partially irrigated by the river Tigris and scorched by the eternal sunshine. Grandfather’s name (Private Davis J. – IV E 22) was on the slate of the long brick wall (in 1933, all the headstones had been removed (due to salts in the soil) and a screen wall had been erected with the names of those buried in the cemetery engraved upon the wall). The individual mounds and crosses had been levelled and removed, and the whole area grassed over. The gate to the cemetery was locked, and the key had to be obtained from the attendant, who lived in a good house (where the hut used to be) (good house according to local people). He came along to say that details were in books. I arranged to come again on Sunday, having had about 45 minutes there.
On Sunday, 20th October, I visited the cemetery between 4.30pm and 5.45pm, about 1.5 miles from the hotel to the cemetery, most of the journey being on dusty, dirt roads. The attendant produced one copy each of Parts One and Two of the Register. This was the first time, that I had seen a register and the first time, that a register was in existence. From the register, I was able to locate Plot IV, Row E, Grave 22. The attendant also had a visitors’ book. Mine was about the fifth entry, and the previous one had been a long time ago. There were rows of trees between some of the plots; a pleasant row of trees from the gate house to the cross in the centre and the concrete seat (in place of the war stone). The chowkidar’s hut had been replaced by an attendant’s house and a garage where the grass mower and lengths of hose pipe were kept. On the west side of the cemetery the brick wall stretched approximately over the lengths of plots XXI, XXIV & XXV. Facing the northern end of plot XXIV are the R.A.M.C. names.
The setting sun behind the wall gives a memorable experience as with the red ball sinking beneath the edge of the horizon and the town of Amara, the last rays of colour appear through the trees and lighting up the cemetery as another day draws to its close.
On Tuesday, 22nd October, I left the hotel by 11.15am and cycled to catch a mini-bus to Basra. On the Friday, back to Baghdad by train, an 11 hour journey.
lest we forget
Following discussions with both Historic Scotland and Dumfries and Galloway Council, permission was granted to erect a memorial stone to the Rev John Davis inside Buittle Old Kirk, alongside the grave stones of other former ministers. The stone was erected in December 1996 and dedicated in June 1997. At the dedication, the ashes of John’s son, Sydney (1909 – 1997) were scattered at the base of the memorial stone.
The final monthly service at the church was held in September 2009 and the church was officially closed at a Thanksgiving service in July 2010. The building was sold into private ownership in August 2014.
On 8 April 2017, a new Buittle War Memorial was dedicated in Buittle cemetery; the result of the efforts of James Brydson, who lost relatives from the parish in both world wars.
To commemorate the centenary of the death of the Rev John Davis, a short service was held at the new War Memorial on 27 July 2017.
Rev John Davis
Died in Mesopotamia, July, 1917
Dead in the land of glamour and romance,
Fraught with the memories of world-old renown,
Ere yet the years could look on him askance,
Or dim his eye, he laid his burden down.
For us the loss, for him the victor's crown.
High has he climbed above all circumstance.
We'll miss the healing touch he made his own,
The helpful word, the kindly sunny glance.
But not by outward Grace alone endeared,
But the most living faith that upward leads,
The sure foundation upon which he reared,
The stately edifice of Christ-like deeds.
Well has he earned setting of life's Sun.
The Welcome Sweet, "servant of God well done."
And in his peoples name in thought I lay
This tribute on his far-off grave today.
9 August 1917 Rex.