Visiting Brookwood Military Cemetery

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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26 thoughts on “Visiting Brookwood Military Cemetery

  1. Pingback: “Their name liveth for evermore” – Brookwood Military Cemetery | Janet's Notebook

  2. Ruby

    There is something special about cemeteries. Sombre, yet tranquil. And snippets of family history. I used to quite enjoy a wander round the local cemetery when I lived near it.

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  7. Harry Nicholson

    Thank you for visiting my blog, Janet, and leaving your compliments.
    I did not know of Brookwood’s existence and feel remiss about that. I’ve been to the Somme cemetaries and Vimy Ridge – and Verdun (the Ossuary there is astonishing). My father was on the Somme – fortunately he was brought home wounded, otherwise I would not exist . . .

    1. Janet Williams

      Hi Harry,

      I’ve got to know Brookwood quite a bit by chance. It’s a sad place, yet it’s a very beautiful, serene resting place. I felt like travelling around the world in this cemetery. When I visited, I felt that British children would learn a lot about the last century by visiting the cemetery in this country.

      I look forward to more of your posts. I’m particularly interested in your enamel work. Congratulations on your new book too!

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  16. Antony McCallum

    Please note that you are describing a prohibition by the owner of that part of Brookwood Cemetery which is privately owned. The owner imposes a charge to photograph there in the ‘civilian’ section & has (I think misplaced) concerns that photographers will exploit the site commercially. Anyway do note that the military cemetery managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the American Battle Monuments Commission are ok with photography strictly for non-commercial purposes and of course as long as it does not intrude into the privacy of those attending the cemetery. Have a look at my page: WyrdLight – The Fallen Remembered With Honour and also the Facebook page of Commonwealth War Graves Commission which regularly features photos from the public. Both the British and American organisations do everything they can to sustain the memories of sacrifice that were and still are being made. Hope this helps.

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      Dear Anthony,

      Thank you very much for your clarifications.

      We only saw a very small notice on a rather old board about the non-photography policy after we came out of Brookwood Cemetary, walking towards the train station. This notice was so small that I doubt anyone would have seen this.

      I took some photographs, but I was so confused by the policy that I did not put any photo in my posts. Their website is very confusing.

      You have a wonderful interartive map about Brookwood Military Cemetery, thank you for sharing it with us. It’s thorough and beautifully presented and it is the best site about Brookwood that I’ve ever seen. Am I right to think that I am also allowed to show similar images on my blog, such as those from the Canadian and USA sections? Next time I’ll need to find out the boundaries between the ‘civilian’ and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission sections.

      Many thanks.

      1. Antony McCallum

        Janet – thanks for your kind comments – much appreciated. I think you may still be referring to the general Brookwood Cemetery site. Have a look at CWGC Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which is part of the CWGC site and shows how hard they work. From there you can also see their newsletters & you’ll see that readers images are featured.

        So – I don’t know of any issues raised by CWGC related to individuals posting images with a positive outlook on its work and continuing task of refreshing the national memory about those who died in conflict to maintain our way of life. You’ll probably realise in looking round Brookwood that there is no glorification of war, but a simple promise to the dead of many nations to keep faith with them & ensure their sacrifice will not be forgotten. And as your blog also keeps that promise I can’t see any reason to be concerned about posting images.

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