The Commonwealth authorities did decide that bodies should not be repatriated and that uniform memorials should be used. At the end of the WW I started the production of uniform headstones most made of Portland stone. The headstones were engraved by hand. They are all rectangles with rounded tops.
At the top British headstones bear the regimental badge, those from the other countries are marked with their national emblem. ON photo 1 headstones 1 - 4 (from left) are from the York Lancater Regt., stone 5 is a Royal Engineer, 6 from the Royal Field Artillery.
Just below the badge or emblem is engraved the rank (with a distinction for infantry "Private", artillery "Gunner", engineers "Sapper"), name, number, unit, date of death and eventually age.
Most headstones are inscribed with a Cross, a few with a Star of David or no religious symbol for those deceased known to be atheist.
At the bottom there is often an epitaph chosen by the soldier's family.
Many gravestones concern unidentified casualties; these headstones bear the inscription "A Soldier of the Great War, Known unto God". (photo 2).
Before the use of the uniform headstones military cemeteries looked like the one of my photo N° 3 near Ypres.
The names of the fallen soldiers whose rests were not identified are engraven on the walls of the various memorials.
The cleaning and eventual re-engraving of the 800.000 First World War headstones worldwide is a mission of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
For details see www.cwgc.org
This Memorial is dedicated to all Irishmen who fought and died or were wounded or were declared missing in the Great War of 1914-1918..
The setting..a lush green expanse of rural Belgium that is just south of the village of Messines..the memorial is rather simple but powerful..The site of the memorial is not the actual location where Irish divisions fought in the Battle of Messines Ridge in June 1917 but in fact...the German Front Line up until then was just to the west of the memorial.Messines Ridge was the first time that Catholic and Protestant Irish fought together and this was a significant event in Irish history coming so soon after the Easter Rebellion in 1916 in Ireland..
The design is of a typical Irish Round Tower and curiously was constructed using stones from a demolished workhouse in Mullinger, County Westmeath, Ireland.Its height is about 110 feet high...and is designed so that on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month the sun...if its shining...will illuminate the inside of the tower,viewed through small window like structures built into it..This is the time that the Armistice was declared and the fighting of the First World War ended...Inside the Tower there are record books with the names of the 49,400 known Irish who gave their lives in the First World War.
There are a number of small structures at the site.. one of four pillars that names each of the provinces of Ireland.. Leinster, Munster, Connaught and Ulster.The other three pillars commemorate the killed, wounded or missing of each of the three Irish divisions which fought with the British Army in WW1.
Nine stone tablets are located in the grounds are inscribed with quotations from poems, prose and letters from Irishmen about the war.
The attached photo of the "quotation" of Charles Miller of the 2nd Inniskilling Fusiliers reads as follows...
" As it was the Ypres battlefield just represented one gigantic slough of despond into which floundered battalions,brigades and divisions of infantry without end to be shot to pieces or drowned until at last and with immeasurable slaughter we had gained a few miles of liquid mud "
On our way to Zillebeke we stopped at a cemetery whose name "China Wall" intrigued me.
The name Perth originated from the fact that this cemetery was adopted by the 2nd Scottish Rifles in June 1917. China Wall comes from a close communication trench known as the "Great Wall of China".
After the Armistice, graves were brought in from the battlefields around Ypres and from a number of smaller cemeteries. There are now 2791 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in this cemetery. Only 1422 are identified.
On our visit the cemetery was closed.
This was the company that I chose to tour the various battlefields and Memorials around the Ieper area.
The company and tour is run by a gentleman named Andre...The tour was quite informative and quite interesting..I spent the entire day visiting various Memorials and a few battlefield areas in what is considered the North Salient....as well as the South Salient...
We made stops at Essex Farm where it is believed that John Mc Crae wrote the infamous poem "In Flanders Fields"...also included in the itinerary were Tyne Cot Cemetery, and Langemarck Cemetery.
Some of the Memorials included in our day were The Brooding Soldier..and the Irish Peace Park that commemorates The battle of Messines and the role that the 36th Ulster Northern Irish Division and the 16th Southern Irish Division played in that battle.
It was a full day and somewhat at times overwhelming....but certainly worth the monies paid...we met and started the day at 9:30 am...with a break mid day we rendezvoused again at 1:30 pm and wrapped up the day at around 5:30 pm...
The normal cost per person would be 35 Euros for a half day...its possible to book only a morning or an afternoon tour...He runs the North Tour in the morning and the Southern section in the afternoon...
Payment can be made with major credit cards as well as cash...of course!
In addition to the tours that Andre operates he has a small store that sells really wide selection of books relating to the battles around Ieper and collectibles such as,medals,helmets,knives,bayonets and odds and ends.
1988 Commonwealth soldiers were burried on this spot. About 2/3 of them are unidentified.
Lieutenant G.W.L. Talbot , who gave his name to Talbot House in Poperinge, lies in Plot I.
Sanctuary Wood Cemetery
It was here near Essex farm that the Canadian physician, John McCrae (1872-1918), in the night of 2-3 may 1915, wrote his famous poem: In Flanders fields.
On Sunday, May 2nd, a friend of McCrae, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed by a grenade. During the burial cermony for his friend Dr. McCrae said some prayers. Adjudant Allison says that he personally saw how McCrae wrote his poem on the following day, staring at Helmer's grave. John was buried in Wimereux Cemetery north of Boulogne, not far from the fields of Flanders.
John McCrae biography
In Flanders fields
At the corner Jules Coomansstraat and Boterstraat (across the street coming from the Grote Markt, along the Cloth hall), you find the Memorial in remembrance of the victims of Ieper (WW I and WW II), this is also names the Ieper Fury.
It was designed by architect Jules Coomans in 1924 and made by sculptur Aloïs de Beule from 1924 / 1926.
The monument shows the bronze statues of soldiers on guard, in the middle there is a fallen soldiers in between women, with a lying lion in front of them. On both sides there are plates with the names of the fallen soldiers.
On the day of the revelation of the monument on Sunday June 27 1926 there were heavy incidents which got the name the Iepers Fury.
Potyze : the word comes from the French word Potiche.
Which is a long earthen or chinaware vase or vessel.
Nearby there is a roundabout with a big Potyze on (when I pass there I must make a picture of it)
This cemetery is one of the two French military cemeteries in the Westhoek. This is also the biggest French military cemetery in Flanders.
Probably there are resting about 4171 French soldiers here on this cemetery.
- 3547 soldiers in individual, in double and in collective graves
- 609 dead soldiers in the 'Ossuary'
- 15 recent graves of remains found by the diggers while they where working on Ieper industrial park along the channel Ieper-IJzer.
What is also special, that it are not all crosses on this cemetery, there are also arab thumbs with arab names, and some jewish graves (often with one or more stones on top of it) - see pictures.
Potyze cemetery along the road to Zonnebeke
Hier rusten de roemrijke lijken van meer dan 4.000 Franse soldaten gesneuveld op het veld van eer op Vlaanderens Front gedurende de Grote Oorlog 1914 - 1918
Ici reposent les restes glorieux de plus de 4.000 soldats Francais morts au Champs d'honneur sur le front des Flandres au cours de la Grande Guerre 1914 - 1918
Here are resting the glorious bodies of more then 4.000 French soldiers who died on the Field of honour at Flanders Front during the Big War 1914 - 1918
Wooden crosses with a poppy are widely available and a popular way of marking your visit to a relative's grave. One unusual sight you will see if a VC winner is buried in the cemetery you visit is a proliferation of these crosses by his headstone. The tourists have been at it again! One can imagine the bus arriving and everyone heading to the grave and marking the spot. Yet to either side lie soldiers who were just as brave in that terrible conflict whose graves are unadorned by this new form of tourism. It seems rather incongruous to me that this happens. If you have a cross to spare why not place it on a fellow member's grave from your relative's regiment. We should remember them all not just a selected few from our tourist guide.
There are many cemeteries in the Ypres area and it can be a much more moving experience to visit some of the lesser known ones. Some cemeteries like Hooge Crater and Sanctuary Wood now seem to have become places to go on the tourist trail. If you can try to visit the less well known cemeteries and paticularly the less accessible ones where the CWGC staff pay just as much attention to looking after the graves and the floral displays that are a feature of them all. Sign the visitors book and if you see a gardener thank him for his efforts. Oak Dump, Hop Store and Ridge Wood are just three cemeteries that are quiet places of remembrance that deserve a visit but there are many others. We cannot visit them all easily but please try to visit somewhere off the beaten track. They can somehow be more evocative than some of the popular ones on the tourist trail.
Hooge Crater is one of the popular stops for the tourist buses. Therefore it can be very busy at times in the cafe and small museum opposite the cemetery itself. The Great War is now a flourishing tourist industry and educational project for schools that sometimes one wonders if remembrance is losing its importance. Take a walk down to the far end of Hooge Crater. It's too far for most of the tourists. Look back up at the lines of headstones that seem to merge into one another and see the scale of just a small part of the sacrifice we made all those years ago. As with all the other cemeteries admire the tidiness and the floral displays that bring colour and life to the place. We should be moved by places like Hooge not ticking them off on our tour or project.
On October 9th 1917 Private F Dancox (4th Bat. Worcestershire Regt) won a VC capturing a blockhouse on this site and the machine gun crews that were killing his comrades as well as dismantling the gun!
There is a mass grave (over 24000 victims) in the centre of the plot and then the amazing statues of the soldiers at the back mourning their dead comrades.
If you're not a history or war buff then you might want to pass up on this.
Best way to get around is to rent a bike at the train station and get a map. Take a visit to Flanders Field and all the other memorials in the area.
... while thinking how young these men were when they had to go off to the "big war", the "picnic, but then without the meaninglessness" as some describe it... If you enlarge the picture, you'll see that the first grave is from a 17-year old boy; made me wonder what I was doing when I was 17.
Throughout and around Ieper you can see many of these cemetaries, for all nationalities that fought in the war. German, American, Canadian, British, Australian, even Indian, ... Most of these cemetaries are maintained by Belgians, sponsored by the British (or other national) government to tend the lawns, keep the graves neat and tidy. Quite an honour for those soldiers, isn't it?