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Remembered Today:

CWGC Cemeteries


mhurst
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I have recently listened to an edition of BBC’s “From Our Own Correspondent”, with a reporter describing a visit to a CWGC cemetery near Tobruk, in Libya. He said that he loved the serenity of such places, especially in such turbulent surroundings, as Tobruk is currently the centre of much unrest in the country.

I have visited many such cemeteries, as I’m sure most members have, in France and Belgium, and have also been struck by their tranquillity and reverence for the fallen. I’ve also visited cemeteries in Thailand, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Crete, and it’s been reassuring to find them all so alike, the stones set among immaculately kept lawns.

The correspondent did point out what he thought was the key to the cemeteries’ appeal by noting that the stones were completely uniform in shape, colour and size, incorporating the deceased’s personal details, with one of many different religious affiliations included, and perhaps with a tribute from family. He contrasted these with the markers in German and French cemeteries, where it is easy to spot the graves of non-Christians, as the standard ones are in the form of a cross. I have only visited the German cemetery at Langemarck which, while providing a fitting memorial to those who lay there, is completely different from the CWGC cemeteries, being much darker and sombre in tone. If it’s possible for a visit to a cemetery to be an up lifting experience, then the CWGC sites provide exactly that. They also, as the BBC reporter noted, stand for inclusivity in such a divisive, modern world.

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However, as David Reynolds points out in his thought-provoking book 'The Long Shadow', the uniformity of Commission cemeteries was widely criticized at the time they were created.

An interesting point about the accepted symbolism of remembrance is that when film or documentary makers want to demonstrate the cost of war they almost always show a cemetery with fields of crosses, normally a French or American one, even if the programme concentrated on the British contribution.

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Frankly, I like the German cemeteries I have been in, if 'like' is the right word. Having spent about 2 days photographing in a large German cemetery south of Suzanne on the Somme I found it a really peaceful and uplifting place. FYI this location has circa 9,000 burials under crosses and about 40,000 in pits. A much more peaceful location than Langemark. Fricourt, though smaller, is very similar.

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  • 4 weeks later...

The CWGC cemeteries are a wonderful asset for our culture.

May I recommend a visit to Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey. I made my 1st visit with monther-in-law who complained that I wanted to leave her there! In the civilian section I actually fell knee deep into a hidden grave. Perhaps she thought I was finding the right spot.

On the other hand on 2nd visit (in the rain) even 17 y.o. daughter appreciated the majestic trees, tasteful sculpture and manicured grounds. There are also US and French Sections at Brookwood, where the surroundings are still majestic, but I don't quite feel so at home.

Reflecting on the burlington's post, I felt almost dread at Fricourt and thought it was the sheer volume of losses, but also the darker crosses and trees with low canopies.

Tim

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