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A Soldier Lies Where He Falls

Discussion in 'World War II Cemeteries' started by Jim, Aug 30, 2010.

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  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    A time-honoured custom of the British Army, has it that a soldier killed in battle is buried in the ground on which he shed his blood. This is why there are 2,500 cemeteries worldwide, some quite small, in 140 different countries. After the Battle of Normandy the Commonwealth War-graves Commission regrouped the graves spread over eighteen cemeteries (sixteen British and two Canadian) laid out along the line of advance. The sixteen cemeteries created are to the north, west and east of Caen, They correspond to the main provisional cemeteries formed in the wake of the Battle. Some were laid-out quite early after the Landings notably:

    Hermanville and Ryes, Bazenville, others later at Saint-Charles-de-Percy (action near Vire) and at Saint-Désir-de-Lisieux (German retreat towards the Seine).

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    The body of a British soldier is never repatriated. Often the original burial place is respected. Graves in churchyards are kept sometimes at local request. Thus at Ranville the first soldiers killed, buried in the churchyard have never been transferred to the war-graves nearby. One solitary war-grave at Caumont-l'Éventé receives the same care as those in the War cemeteries. The graves of soldiers of other nationalities are treated with the same respect, not only Allied Forces but those of German soldiers are looked after with the same care as those of the soldiers of the Crown. Of the 979 war-graves at Ryes, 326 are German. The Bayeux Cemetery is the most cosmopolitan with soldiers of eleven nationalities laid to rest there, of which four are from the Commonwealth. Sited originally near a Field Hospital, it was later enlarged to incorporate graves from about fifteen provisional cemeteries between Evrecy and the sea.

    From 1945 onwards, after the regrouping of graves the landscaping of the cemeteries began and continued until the beginning of the Fifties. To begin with there were very basic grave-yards with lines of wooden crosses. These were all redesigned in the same way: each soldier was given his own grave-stone. The architects: Sir Hubert Worthington, Philip Hepworth and Sir Edward Maul, continued the lay-out following a design established in 1917 by The Imperial War Graves Commission. In each cemetery an identical memorial is erected: The Cross of Sacrifice. The Stone of remembrance, an open-air altar is only placed in the larger cemeteries. In Lower Normandy, sixteen British cemeteries became permanent.

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    There are some 300 Commonwealth graves in the parish churchyards of Lower Normandy most of which are those of pilots and parachutists. Surrounded by low well-trimmed hedges near a road or a village, British cemeteries are gardens, though each an enclave, numerous views are left, of countryside or neighbouring township. From afar they melt into the landscape evidenced only from emerging trees silhouetted against the sky-line. Their size, colours and their nature are all that mark their presence. A corner of garden, so close to England yet one senses a strange familiarity. A sentiment not far removed from that entrenched in the veterans themselves, as they relate the taking or defence of a village or field for their Norman kinsfolk. The lay-out is simple. Rectangular in shape there is a wide central alley laid to lawn. Stretching from one end to the other it is on this axis that the memorial stone and cross are erected at the intersection of the other alleys, leaving a large space for parades and ceremonial occasions. The whole is in sober good taste, in keeping with the British Army. With the regimental badge of each on his headstone and flower arrangements that seem personalised there is a sense of intimacy. It is as if the soldier buried there has made that plot his own. In silent reflection here or there it seems one is by the grave of a dear one.
     

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