The first time before I met my future parents-in-law in a chilly evening about 15 years ago, I walked through a large cemetery with my then boyfriend. I was a bit scared. That was my first visit to ‘meet the parents’ and I was in the middle of a 500-acre cemetery. My boyfriend told me going through the cemetery was the only path to meet his parents in the village. Actually, it wasn’t an ordinary cemetery. It’s Britain’s largest cemetery and possibly the largest in western Europe. This cemetery is particularly known for its war graves.
It’s The Brookwood Cemetery, located in the south of England, about an hour’s train journey from central London.
Last weekend, I spent an afternoon visiting Brookwood Military Cemetery. The military cemetery was added to Brookwood in 1917.
Brookwood Military Cemetery covers about 37 acres, with 5,000 Commonwealth and almost 800 war graves of other nationalities. The cemetery is managed by Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
At the entrance to the cemetery is the Canadian Records building, designed by Edward Maufe. The building was a gift to the Commission from the Canadian government. Over the entrance is the sculpted figure of a Canadian beaver. Brookwood Military Cemetery contains 326 First World War and 2,405 Second World War Canadian burials.
Here is one headstone inscription: “D.82051 Private D.V. Gorringe. The Black Watch/Royal Highland Regiment of Canada; 26th December, 1940, aged 20. Loved, remembered, longed for always. Bringing many a silent tear.”
There’s a circular building – the Brookwood Memorial, designed by Ralph Hobday.
On the top of this cenotaph were these inscribed words: “The eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
On the wall are these words: “1939 + 1945: This memorial bears the names of three thousand five hundred men and women of the forces of the British Commonwealth and empire who gave their lives in their own country and in many foreign lands, in home and distant waters, in the campaign of 1940 in Norway and in later raids on the coasts of Europe, and to whom the fortune of war denied a known and honoured grave.”
Brookwood American Cemetery and Memorial are owned and maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. It’s the only American Military Cemetery of World War I in the British Isles, with the graves of 468 American war dead, and 563 with no known grave.
The headstones in the American section are neatly arranged in four groups around a flagpole. The plot contains a chapel and a reception building. Names of American service personnel who died at sea and have no known graves were inscribed on the chapel walls.
“Perpetual light upon them shines”— these are the inscribed words at the entrance of the building. In the chapel, there are flags, a cross and a Star of David tablet at the centre.
Amongst hundreds of headstones, one with a Star of David caught my eyes. The headstone reads: “Here rest in honoured glory an American soldier. Known but to God.”
Brookwood Military Cemetery is huge. I’ll continue with more details in my next post.
(Note: Brookwood Cemetery prohibits the posting of photographs on the Internet. If you wish to see any official photographs, please visit the Brookwood Cemetery website, and support its Cemetery Restoration project.)
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