Where the War-Dead Rest
The Beauty of the War Graves Commission Cemeteries
The Evening Citizen; Ottawa, Ont.; 6 November 1948
The well-kept beauty of the Canadian military cemeteries in Northwest Europe is a tribute not only to the care and skill of the Imperial War Graves Commission, but to the people of the surrounding areas. Writing in The Legionary, organ of the Canadian Legion, Major Colin McDougall, Canadian army photographer who visited Europe last summer, describes what he saw.
At Holten in eastern Holland, where lie men killed in the last stages of fighting in Holland and Germany, soil conditions were not right for landscaping, and in the past two years the weather has been bad. Yet the seed grass sown has now grown into a lovely lawn. Lying amid rolling country, the setting with its growths of Scots pines and a profusion of purple heather, reminds visitors of parts of Scotland.
The district is used as a holiday resort, and each day during the season hundreds of visitors enter the cemetery to view its 1,300 graves. At the head of each grave flowers bloom, and all around the flowers is the soft grass.
Similar scenes may be viewed at Groesbeek, also in Holland, where the cemetery, situated on a hilltop, overlooks the Rhine and the Hochwald, which Canadians will recall as the scene of particularly bitter fighting in February, 1945, when the drive to smash the northern flank of the Siegfried line was launched; and at Beny-sur-Mer and Bretteville-sur-maize in Normandy. At the former, one can see the English Channel over which the invasion fleet sailed to France, while the cemetery at Brettville is associated with the straight road from Caen to Falaise, scene of one of the bitterest struggles in Canadian Military annals.
The Imperial War Graves Commission plans to replace the crosses that now mark the graves with headstones, each with a Maple Leaf and a cross engraved on it. The Commission, which acts on behalf of, and is financed on a pro rata basis by all the Commonwealth governments, has kept in mind the overall simplicity and uniformity of design which is desired in these burial grounds. The caretakers it engages are veterans who approach their task with a sense of dedication.
Assisting the Commission is the National War Graves Committee, formed by the Dutch people. Through this committee many families and institutions in Holland have adopted allied graves on their soil. They visit the cemeteries regularly, to lay cut flowers on the graves, to pay homage to and pray for the men buried there. Many correspond with Canadian relatives of the dead, and inform them of the care received by the graves of their loved ones. And in Norandy, the people have similarly interested themselves in the Canadian cemeteries.
Besides visiting the cemeteries where rest the dad of the Second World war Major McDougall spent a brief time at Ypres, Belgium. Here at the Menin Gate each night Belgian veterans sound the Last Post in memory of the 50,000 men of the British Empire who perished in the Ypres Salient in the First World War. Damage to the area caused in the last war, is now being repaired. Workmen are restoring the historic Gate to its original perfection. Beside the new Cloth Hall built on the site of the old, some of the ruins have been left standing.
Each of the Canadian cemeteries was visited last summer by General H.D.G. Crerar, war-time commander of the First Canadian Army, while he was a member of as special Canadian mission which attended the coronation of Queen Juliana of The Netherlands.