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CWGC Headstones


genegwf
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Hello,

I wonder if some of the members could tell me where to learn more about the layout of headstones in CWWG cemeteries.

I seem to remember reading somewhere an explanation and meaning as to why some of the headstones are touching.

Can someone lead me in the right direction?

Thanks in advance,

Gene

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Gene,

Some are touching as the fallen were buried in 'trench graves'. i.e.- they dug a trench and laid them side by side after a major engagement. Those not touching, a fair space apart, were interred in individual plots or holes.

Cheers Andy.

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It's interesting to study the headstones and cemetery layouts of the Great War, they are all incredibly individual places, each has its own special corner, some have more attraction than others in their layout and position on the landscape sometimes on the old front line, a quarry or a cemetery that was attached to a CCS. Occasionally a corner of a cemetery or a particular row of headstones catches your eye and you begin to wonder about the moment these men were buried and what was going on around their burial parties. I often wonder about the lads that are buried near the pill box in Tyne Cot Cemetery; it's probably the closest they got to the darn thing. The CWGC website allows you to view the layout of most of the cemeteries that contain their headstones, the plan along with the information also supplied on the site begins to paint a picture of the difficulties that must have been endured when burying the fallen on or near the battlefields.

When there was a lull in the fighting or well behind the lines such as at base hospitals more time could be devoted to giving the fallen a decent and honourable burial in a more formal layout. Some men were afforded a decent and honourable burial on or near the battlefield but in subsequent fighting their graves were lost, in many cases forever. Each year some of these missing lads are reunited with their comrades in the larger cemeteries; it makes me think of what they would have thought, seeing a mini-digger doing all the work.

Many cemeteries were concentrated after the Armistice as well as the unenvious job of the exhumation squads who had the task of clearing individual battlefield burials right up until the early 1930s. The memorable work of the then IWGC and its workers created what has flourished into what we see today in the tranquil cemeteries of of our war dead.

A few years ago I took a photo of a headstone on the Somme, recently whilst at our local reference library I came across a book which contained a beautiful picture of the same mans original grave with its wooden cross and small stone cairn built by his mates, the two pictures create a nice then and now comparison. Sadly many were never allowed the dignity of a decent burial and were quickly buried where they fell, in some cases along with several others that were in the same shell hole and often without their name. Trench burials often took place, have a look at Luke Copse, others were buried in pits where you can today see 'cramped' headstones, double and even treble headstones, there are also the single headstones that commemorate the several unknown soldiers buried beneath it. Some reports have men on their way up the front line seeing mass pits and piles of wooden crosses; it's no wonder that some developed a callous sense of humour.

Jon

(pics courtesy of Neil/ShropshieMad)

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Genef

I suggest that you obtain a copy of the paperback "The Unending Vigil - The History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission" by Philip Longworth. Publisher: Pen & Sword.

It contains lots of little fascinating details that will interest you.

Harry

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Google Earth can be a very useful tool for viewing the layout of cemeteries too. The details is not consistent as the resolution of what I imagine to be millions of shots of the earth's surface varies somewhat, but in some cases the view is terrific.

Example: the immaculate layout at Wancourt. Note the variations in grave spacing along each row.

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This is Noeux-les-Mines communal,near Loos.

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Dave.

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Those are very nice photo's Dave. The perfect example of trench graves.

The google earth photo from Chris shows a combination of both trench and individual.

Cheers Andy.

Below an extreme example of those buried in individual plots. This from the Somme American Cemetery.

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Hi Gene,

Advice that I have received from a senior executive of the CWGC in France suggests that what Andy has said is their (CWGC's) best idea of why they are touching.

In regard to Jon's mention of the graves near the pill box (behind the Cross of Sacrifice) at Tyne Cot. There was an Australian forward first aid post in that pill box for a time and those buried nearby in the haphazard manner are said to be those who died at or arrived deceased to the post for treatment. Note, there are some German soldiers buried nearby also, presumably with the same circumstances as the others. Many of the graves appear to have been multiple burials within the same grave.

Dave, for Noeux-les-Mines Communal Cemetery, again my CWGC contact has previously agreed with me that the offset headstones are as follows. It is suspected that there is a trench grave and the bodies placed so tight that they are unable to place headstones side to side (touching) and as such, have to place one slightly back, but still visible through the space left in the front row, every now and again.

I have been told that the CWGC inherited what was left by their predeccessors, sometimes very little or none about the exact reasons Cemeteries were laid out in the unusual patterns that we observe. In addition, I was told that one of the document storage warehouses was hit during the WW2 and records were lost.

Hope this helps, Peter

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An interesting thread, but just to throw a spanner in the works...........

At Longuenesse, there is a wall of headstones, all touching, which must be over 200 YARDS long. They are from differing dates, and I really can't see how these men were all buried in one long trench, over a period of over a year.

Can anyone explain that?

Bruce

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Dave, for Noeux-les-Mines Communal Cemetery, again my CWGC contact has previously agreed with me that the offset headstones are as follows. It is suspected that there is a trench grave and the bodies placed so tight that they are unable to place headstones side to side (touching) and as such, have to place one slightly back, but still visible through the space left in the front row, every now and again.

Hope this helps, Peter

Hiya Peter.

I dont understand why at Noeux you have these staggered graves all cramped up like that when in the same cemetery there is a row of several stones with 2 mens details on each.

Would it not have been simpler & easier on the eye to do the same with the rows I've shown in the photos?I understand that if an individual is known to be placed there he merits a single stone but....you see my point.

Dave.

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Bruce,

Just had a look at the CWGC site for the cemetery. There is no mention of graves concentration after the war so that is a damn fine question.

Could they have been tidied up, so to speak, when the cemeteries were being redesigned. As in they were in a mess scattered over the cemetery grounds and then put into neat rows?

Is this the row you mentioned. Photo from the CWGC site.

Cheers Andy

post-41030-1232969466.jpg

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Very similar long rows of touching stones at Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension. A hospital cemetery, as was Longuenesse Souvenir. My guess is that the rate of burials was such that it made sense from a labour viewpoint to dig trench-like continuous graves.

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Andy,

Longuenesse is a fascinating cemetery. There are a number of long rows, as the one in the picture. There are French and Belgian burials, along with some nurses, IWGC workers, CLC, French Indo-Chinese Labour Corps., some Czechs and Poles, a row of 13 of the BWIR and SA Lab Corps (proving racism!), but all along the back of the cemetery, making the back wall, is one enormous row. It must be over 200 yards long. The headstones are all touching, except where there are a few set back to ease access behind them.

Chris....thanks. However, since that great, long row includes burials from over a year apart, would they really have dug a trench over 200 yeards long, started filling at one end and then just kept filling it? I think the idea of some tidying up process is more likely, but given the character of the rest of the cemetery, and the space available, I am still not quite sure of the origins of that great wall of headstones.

Bruce

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Just to pour petrol on the flames, Pont du Hem CWGC has many 2nd RWF men with continuous touching headstones who I know for sure were concentrated after exhumation from La Cordonnerie, the Oct/Nov 1914 epic of endurance.

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now am i right in thinking those are in the marble church?

matt

[Matt I deleted the excessive quote and photo's to save bandwidth, but 'yes', the photo's in post 3 are from Bodelwyddan - Andy Hesketh]

Edited by Andrew Hesketh
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Hiya Peter.

I dont understand why at Noeux you have these staggered graves all cramped up like that when in the same cemetery there is a row of several stones with 2 mens details on each.

Dave.

Hi Dave,

The two on a headstone were explained to me to be two bodies in the one grave. One on top of the other, or a mix of body parts of two known persons. I have tried to get explanations from CWGC but they admit that they are guessing because it was not documented about why their predeccessors did "this" here and "that" over there, and in the same cemetery. It was an awful job that they were doing when they re-buried them and it would appear as though it perhaps "got a little out of hand", at times.

Regards, Peter

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Hi Dave,

The two on a headstone were explained to me to be two bodies in the one grave. One on top of the other, or a mix of body parts of two known persons. I have tried to get explanations from CWGC but they admit that they are guessing because it was not documented about why their predeccessors did "this" here and "that" over there, and in the same cemetery. It was an awful job that they were doing when they re-buried them and it would appear as though it perhaps "got a little out of hand", at times.

Regards, Peter

They are trench burials with men laid side by side and sometimes 'on their side'. a headstone over each man would have been impossible. An example is La Belle Alliance used by 33rd Brigade (mainly 9th Bn Sherwood Foresters) There is a headstone at La Clytte which has either or are buried in the grave. Two men hit by a shell and it was known that the body parts would be from one of the men.

am not sure if it is possible to get hold of the book that I have -

Courage Remembered (The story behind the construction and maintenance of the Commonwealth's Military Cemeteries and Memorials of the wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945) by Gibson and Kinglsey (1989)

Recumbent stones such as Boulogne and Gallipoli are used because the ground would not take a normal stone.

steve m

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Hi Steve,

Good one. Will try to get a copy as I find the subject fascinating, not to mention that a lot of my Tour Guests do ask many, many questions and I would like to be as accurate as possible, both for the Tour Guests and also for those that we are there to remember.

Regards, Peter

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More flat headstones can be found at Wimereux.

In this case, the area is all sand, and so headstones just wouldn't stand up.

It is there that John McCrae ("In Flanders Fields", Essex farm) is buried........along with an Australian nurse whose family put on a message which makes all those of us with a preuient mind giggle.

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