War hero’s grave restored to former glory

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THE gravestone of one of Hawick’s most decorated soldiers has been lifted from oblivion.

Lieutenant-Colonel James Kennedy died at his home in Hawick in 1938 at the relatively young age of 55 years.

The son of a butcher’s clerk from Hawick, he rose from the ranks of the Black Watch to become commanding officer of a Welsh regiment during the Great War.

He was affectionately known to his men as ‘Chocolate Kennedy’ as he was constantly urging them to eat chocolate to keep their energy and spirits up.

He was awarded the DSO and Bar, MC, DCM and the French Croix De Guerre – all for acts of gallantry and soldierly ability.

James could hardly have imagined that just over a year after his death, Europe would once again be at war – a war that would claim the lives of two of his four sons. Their names were carved on his headstone for all to see until many years later, mindless ignorant vandals toppled the stone face down into the mud.

Local historian Derek Robertson said: “A couple of years ago, Susan Hopcraft, the great-granddaughter of James Kennedy contacted me to enquire about James’ grave but to my sorrow and Hawick’s shame, all I could tell her was that I knew where his grave was but the headstone was toppled and unreadable.”

Last week justice secretary Kenny MacAskill was in Hawick and part of his day was spent in Wilton Cemetery watching the Community Payback team, an initiative forcing offenders to repay the community for the wrong they have done.

Totally randomly, as he stood and watched the team re-erect vandalised headstones, the very first stone to be lifted was that of ‘Chocolate Kennedy’. Immediately recognising the significance of the lettering on the stone, Mr MacAskill said that the raising of the Kennedy stone was ‘fitting and touching’.

The Kennedy headstone now sits on a new concrete base and the stone is pinned so it can’t be so easily pushed over.

And Ian Lowes, former president of Hawick Archaeological Society hopes that the condition of the stone will be further improved next year by the society for the centenary of the start of the Great War.

The community payback team have a backlog of 9,000 headstones in the Borders which need their attention - some toppled by age, vandals or “made safe” and laid flat by Scottish Borders Council under the pretext of health and safety.