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Headstones in non-CWGC cemeteries abroad


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I hope someone here might be able to advise me. I am interested in a particular soldier - an officer in the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles - who was killed in October 1914 at Neuve Chapelle. After he died, his body was laid out in the grounds of the chateau there along with a number of others for burial, but German shelling forced a British withdrawal and the bodies apparently remained unburied. I understand that this territory was then in German possession for most of the rest of the war, which I assume would mean that the location of these bodies was unknown to the British authorities. Certain the location of the soldier's body was unknown to his family.

In the absence of a known gravesite, his family seem to have erected a headstone in a local civilian cemetery. His niece possesses a photograph of this headstone, which was made by a mason in Bethune. The family story goes that this headstone was 'in France' and that it was looked after by a local Frenchwoman - who appears in the photograph.

His niece also possesses a photo of a wooden cross indicating that he was 'buried near this spot' - I have no idea where this cross was located and it is impossible to tell from the photo, but I assume it may have been in the former grounds of the chateau. The soldier is today buried in Guards Cemetery, Windy Corner, Cuinchy. As this is some way from Neuve Chapelle and I understand was one of the cemeteries kept open for burial of bodies found during post-war 'combs' of the battlefields, I assume the bodies left in the grounds of the chateau at Neuve Chapelle in 1914 were found at some point after the war and re-interred at Cuinchy.

But my question is: is there any way of finding out where the first headstone put up by his family was erected? Judging by the photo it is in a civilian cemetery and since the headstone itself was made in Bethune I'm guessing it might have been in that town or somewhere close by. Who is responsible for French domestic cemeteries and would they hold records for these kinds of 'graves' - given that there was never a burial in this particular plot?

I hope I've explained this OK - it seems very complicated! I would post the photo of the grave in question except that I am reluctant to do so without permission from the soldier's niece.

Any information or guidance would be greatly appreciated!


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The 'local' civilian cemeteries in France are the responsibility of the local commune and, therefore, they will hold any records that exist.

However, as you know the current burial location in a CWGC cemetery, you could start by emailing CWGC (casualty.enq@cwgc.org) to see if there is a record of where the body in Windy Corner, Cuinchy came from. Give the full name etc.

If they have a record of the commune or location from whence the body came, you have a starting point for contacting the commune authorities.

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Having read all this, I am very astonished that the man has a known grave. Are you sure it is not just a commemoration stone in Guards Cemetery, in stead of a real grave?


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Yes I'm pretty sure. The CWGC headstone is just a normal one with name, rank etc on it, and an inscription presumably chosen by his family: 'I have fought the good fight'. The headstone in the civilian cemetery says 'who fell ... near this spot'. The wooden cross which I suspect may be in the chateau grounds has metal bands on it which read 'fell at Neuve Chapelle on 25 October and was interred near this spot.' There is a third photograph, again showing a wooden cross (definitely a different one though!) but this time it's definitely in a CWGC cemetery because there are CWGC headstones in the background. I visited the grave at Windy Corner and to me it looks like the same place.

To be honest I'm also surprised that the body could be recovered, and the process of it all is a bit of a mystery. I would have thought that if bodies were found at the chateau at Neuve Chapelle post-war and then transferred, they would have been buried as a group, but this man isn't near anyone else with the same, or even similar, dates of death.

The more I look into it, the less sense it makes - especially when you consider that Neuve Chapelle was fought over again in 1915. John Lucy talks about it in 'There's A Devil in the Drum':

‘Four hundred officers and men fell round and about the very trenches where we had been decimated in October – an unhappy coincidence. Survivors told me that the bodies of the men of our battalion had been blown out of the ground after five months, and their corpses, bearing the same buttons and badges, lay mingled with those of the newly killed men from India. It was eerie to think that possible kinsmen came out of their graves to lie beside their brother Irishmen.’


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