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'We've forgotten these soldiers who put their lives on the line for us'

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 08/06/2015

Some of the World War One gravestones
Some of the World War One gravestones
Some of the World War One gravestones

Passing through Movilla cemetery 10 days ago, Eileen Scott was shocked by the sight that suddenly confronted her.

In a quiet section of the sprawling graveyard, hidden among rows of headstones, lay the final resting place of a group of soldiers who had died in battle.

Slowly disappearing under a rambling mass of weeds, the graves would have been easy to miss, perhaps even ignore.

For Eileen, however, it was a deeply troubling discovery, something which she couldn't overlook.

A veteran of the Iraq conflict, during which she lost two friends, she knows only too well the value of life and the respect which is due in death.

"I wouldn't say it makes me angry, it actually makes me sad," she says.

"These soldiers put their lives on the line for us, yet we have forgotten them."

The sight of neglected graves falling into disrepair prompted Eileen to take matters into her own hands - literally.

Over the last 10 days she has spent hours in the graveyard, clearing away weeds and removing dirt which has gathered on headstones.

Beside each grave she leaves a small cross bearing the poppy symbol and a light.

"It's about giving them a light and a poppy and showing that we remember them," she explains.

"Every year on Remembrance weekend we say 'Lest We Forget', but we do forget.

"They are in our graveyards but nobody stops, nobody visits."

Eileen joined the military when she was 17.

She served in the Adjutant General's Corps, one of the largest corps in the British Army, and was attached to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in Germany.

It was this Army grounding which, she explains, taught her the importance of respect.

In 2005 Eileen started a six-month posting in Al Amarah, a city in south-eastern Iraq on the banks of the Tigris River.

She describes as "scary" her time in the war-torn region.

"I remember the night before I left to go. I didn't know what to expect. I rang my family and said goodbye because I didn't know if I would live or die," she says.

"We got mortar-attacked daily in camp.

"You were out at first light, daily, trying to find them and seeing if they landed in camp.

"But it was such an experience. You get to go places that nobody else has been. You see things that nobody else will see."

Nor perhaps will anyone fully understand the trauma of what servicemen and women in places like Iraq encountered. "I lost a couple of friends over there," she adds.

"Gordon Pritchard was killed by an IED (an improvised explosive device). He wasn't in Al Amarah but was with a squadron of my regiment - C Squadron.

"Another, Lance Corporal Douglas, was shot in the cheek by a sniper."

Eileen left the Army in 2007 after she had her first child, and has kept a keen interest in military life since.

But it was not until that chance encounter in Movilla cemetery that she began her quest to repair war graves.

"My dad died three months ago and I was visiting his grave last Friday," she explains.

"Out of curiosity I asked my husband to drive through the older part of the graveyard, because I'm fascinated by old graves.

"As we were driving we spotted a group of military graves, and we pulled up. I was just shocked by what I saw.

"It was not even that the graves were untidy, it was just that there were weeds and stones scattered about.

"At one grave someone had dug in artificial flowers, but they had been there for about 10 years."

Eileen obtained a set of crosses embellished with poppies, and small solar-powered lights which illuminate the graveyard at night.

"I thought it would be so nice to

see them illuminated at night," she adds. "It would be like shining a light on our heroes.

"Just walking around Movilla and seeing the wee poppy and light fills me full of joy.

"I know they shine at night."

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