Anyone who has followed the news reporting around Remembrance Day each year is aware of the cemeteries maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. When they are shown in news clips, it is usually one of the larger cemeteries, the reports comments remarking on the many roes, hundreds or thousands of graves, and the inevitable line about "the horror of war." But what seldom gets shared is not the overpowering images of the large cemeteries, which convey sacrifice in numbers beyond easy comprehension, it is the fact that there are thousands of smaller cemeteries, some with only a few burials, that poignantly rest among the hills and valleys of the French and Belgian countryside.
While researching the First World War casualties of The Royal Canadian Regiment, I expected to find them lying in a number of cemeteries following the Regiment's movements about the theatre of war. But I did not expect to identify, locate and record 183 separate burial and commemorative sites in seven countries. And this, to place it in perspective, was in searching for the fallen of only one infantry battalion (of the CEF's 48 battalions within the four infantry divisions).Quiet beautiful cemeteries are the resting places for many of the Canadian casualties of the First World War. Well cared for in perpetuity, these sites exist in a state of grace, where visitors automatically fall into pensive silence as they walk between the rows of white or grey stones, either to visit an ancestor, perhaps the first of the family to do so, or to absorb the immensity of the sacrifice of so many fallen from so many families.
For those without the opportunity to visit the CWGC cemeteries in Europe, similar experiences may be found in many community cemeteries in Canada. Many soldiers, wounded or sick, managed to return to their families before succumbing to their wounds or illness. They too are among the dead of the Great War, and lie in cemeteries closer to home, most still marked by the familiar gravestone supplied through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Sacred Places; Canadian Cemeteries of the Great War
For those with an interest in learning more about the CWGC cemeteries, a new series of books now available from Norm Christie identifies each cemetery in France and Belgium with Canadian burials. Each entry is supplemented by notes on some of the soldiers whose graves can be found there.
- Sacred Places, Vol I – Belgium = "...tells the stories of the 168 cemeteries that contain the graves of Canadians who died in Belgium during the Great War."
- Sacred Places, Vol II – France (A-K) - "...the details of 240 Great War cemeteries in France and explained, giving location, historical background and stories of the Canadians buried there."
- Sacred Places, Vol III – France (L-Z) - "...the details of 241 Great War cemeteries in France..."
Remembered; The History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
For anyone seeking more in depth information into the history of these cemeteries, I would recommend the following volume:
Remembered; The History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission – "This lavishly illustrated book marks the 90th anniversary of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which pays tribute to the 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars. Charting the development of the magnificent cemeteries and memorials built in 150 countries, "Remembered" emphasizes the importance of the commission's work not only in commemorating the dead, but also in preserving the sites of some of the most historically significant battles of the twentieth century. The first major illustrated history of its kind for almost fifty years, "Remembered" is an engaging introduction to the work of the CWGC and its enduring relevance today."
Lest we Forget