Private Ernest J Buckley from Leicester saw active service as a gunner in the Royal Artillery in Belgium during the First World War. Following the severe bombardment of the strategic Mesen Ridge, he was walking through the rubble of what once had been St Nicholas' Church when he noticed some coloured cloth among the stones. He pulled out the cloth, tucked it in his tunic and took it home as a war souvenir.
The cloth proved to be local embroidery and was in good condition. Eventually it was professionally mounted into a fire-screen and used in the Buckley's sitting room. On his death the fire-screen passed to his daughter Mrs E Jean Holden (nee Buckley). The screen was unwanted, but the embroidery was carefully removed and kept safely, but largely forgotten, in a draw.
When Jean Holden moved to Blunham the embroidery was rediscovered and there were several family discussions about its future. The conclusion was that Ernest Buckley's Grandson, Peter Holden, would one day visit the battlefields and try to discover if the church still existed with a view to offering the embroidery back. This proved unnecessary, however, because of a remarkable coincidence.
Alan Brannagan moved into Blunham and met Jean Holden. Alan Brannagan had been serving as a pastor with the War Graves Commission and knew Mesen and he was told the story of the embroidery. Alan knew Albert Ghekiere who lived in Mesen and who took visitors round the now rebuilt St Nicholas' Church. Albert had custody of many of the treasurers and relics associated with that building and had made a study of its history. He was able to identify the embroidery as being an apron from a statue that once stood in the Church, possibly from the special statue of Our Lady of Messines.
Albert Ghekiere was keen to have the embroidery restored to the Church and the Buckley/Holden family was keen to return it. This was eventually achieved in the autumn of 1998 when Peter Holden, accompanied by his wife Susan and son James met Albert Ghekiere in Mesen and retraced Grandfather's/Great Grandfathers footsteps through St Nicholas' Church to the modern statue of Our Lady of Messines.
St Nicholas' Church is now dedicated to peace. Through soldiers and their families the church is maintaining links with Christian communities in many parts of the world. Albert Ghekiere was keen for St Edmund's, Blunham, through its links the Holdens and Alan Brannagan, to be one of those linked Churches. To this end he donated a small replica of the Statue of Our Lady of Messines to our Church. This statue is now on show in the church on special occasions.
[The origin of Our lady of Messines originates from a vision of the mother of Christ being seen in Messines and later an Abbey being built on the site - of which St Nicholas' Church is the only surviving part. The story of the vision is beautifully illustrated in the Journal de l'abbaye Mere de Dieu, Messines of c1530. Ironically this book is in the British Museum...and there are no plans to return it!]
Written by Peter Holden