An animal-loving widower told how turning detective after kicking a ‘rock’ when he stumbled while walking in the woods led him to discover a Victorian bunny grave – helping to heal his broken heart in the process.
Retired photographer Sid Saunders, 75, of Hastings, East Sussex, England, started reconnecting with nature on long walks with his three pet dogs and his camera after losing his beloved wife and partner-of-47-years, Sylvia, 65, to bowel cancer in 2013.
But in August 2014 while walking through some woods in nearby St. Leonards-on-Sea, he stumbled, kicking what he thought was a moss-covered rock only to discover it was, in fact, a 130-year-old headstone belonging to a wealthy family’s Dutch rabbit.
Sid recalled: “It was incredibly muddy where I was walking and I nearly fell over, but as I did, I kicked a hard rock – or at least I thought it was a rock.
“I looked closer and saw it was a headstone covered in mold and moss. At first, I was concerned that it belonged to a baby, because it was so small, so I went home to get equipment to clean it and investigate some more.”
Returning the next day with a bottle of water and garden tools such as hedge clippers and a wire brush, Sid began cleaning the headstone, revealing the name ‘Duchie’ and the years 1869-1882.
The proud owner of Angel, a miniature Daschund, Tilly, a Jack Russell-Chihuahua mix, Socks, a Jack Russell-Pug mix and a cat named Tibbles, he at first, mistakenly, thought it was a dog’s grave.
“I thought it was a weird name for a dog, so I kept cleaning to see what else I could find,” said Sid. “That’s when I saw the tiny carving of a rabbit just above its name and realized it must have been a Dutch rabbit.
“I couldn’t believe the date on the stone. It felt like I was looking at a piece of history. It was so heartwarming to know the rabbit had been so loved by its family that they’d given it a proper burial and a sophisticated headstone.”
Gobsmacked, Sid was determined to find out more, so he visited his local museum and did some online research, discovering that the woods had once been a huge private estate belonging to a wealthy family.
Sadly, the staff at the museum could not give him their name or find any more details for him. The headstone seemed to be the most significant artifact from their past.
Fascinated by his findings, Sid posted his discoveries on Facebook – attracting so many comments from other users that he became something of a local celebrity.
And, eternally grateful to Dutchie for distracting him from his grief after losing Sylvia, he still visits the bunny’s grave up to five times a year to ensure it’s maintained properly.
He said: “It’s a way of keeping myself busy and my brain supple. I’m a huge nature and animal lover, so it feels important for me to preserve it.”
Caring for the headstone and showing hikers how to find it has also helped distract him from his most recent loss after his daughter, Tracy, who was just 47-year-old, tragically died two months ago after an epileptic seizure.
Sid, who also has two sons, Jason, 41, a railway engineer and Joseph, 34, a school caretaker, and has six grandchildren, said: “Losing my wife and daughter has been terrible. I’m still coming to terms with it all.
“Being around nature and discovering the headstone has at least given me some joy, and I love seeing other people enjoy it whenever they come across it.
“It’s unique and a lovely bit of history. The family clearly made this headstone out of love and I want to maintain that love.”
He added: “I hope that, when I’m too old to do it, someone else will continue after me.
“It’s charming and it’s brought me some happiness at a very difficult time.”