The Friends of Holbeck Cemetery invite you to join them on their annual Remembrance Walk on Sunday 13th November at 2:30 pm. Please meet at the main gates on Fairfax Road, off Cemetery Road. We will focus on some of those who served at the Somme , as this year is the 100th anniversary of that event. Each grave has its own story to tell of the lives of ordinary people like you and me.Please help us to remember them.
I thought some of you may be interested in the background to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones which can be clearly seen scattered throughout the cemetery.In fact Holbeck Cemetery has 87 of these stones and they are looked after by the CWGC
At the beginning of WW1, a man called Fabian Ware , too old to serve in the army, arrived in France in September 1914 to lead a mobile unit of the Red Cross. He soon noticed that there was no one in charge of marking and recording the graves of those killed. He reported ,“Many graves are frequently under fire and inaccessible.I regret to say that not only have a large number of bodies been destroyed beyond all recognition by the enemy’s fire before burial but that the traces of graves themselves have in a large number of cases been obliterated.”
The Commission decided to use headstones rather than crosses to mark the graves , simpler to produce,stood up better and had more room for inscriptions.This did upset some people who wanted a cross.Some families wanted to choose their own headstone . The Commission felt that ‘costly monuments put up by the well-to-do over their dead would contrast unkindly with those humbler ones which would be all the poorer folk could afford ‘, and that headstones should be uniform, to honour everyone equally.Overcoming massive problems of lack of manpower, transport and materials ( enough stone for 700,000 headstones to begin with ) the Commission managed *’ the biggest single bit of work since any pharaohs.’*Rudyard Kipling.
When the USA entered the war, they promised to bring back home any of their citizens killed in action. Commonwealth governments had not made any such commitment , and in any case , the scale of their losses were many times greater. The Commission decided that ‘to allow the removal ( of bodies) by a few families( of necessity only those who could afford the cost) would be contrary to the principle of equality of treatment.’ They thought it would be much more fitting if ‘those who fought and fell together, officers and men, lay together in their last resting place , facing the line they gave their lives to maintain.’
When the First World War ended in November 1918 barely half of the Western Front’s dead had been given a proper burial in a designated military cemetery. The battle fields were strewn with hundreds of hastily made ‘soldiers’ cemeteries, some little more than clusters of graves in fields , by roadsides or canal banks. Thousands lay in No Man’s Land. Men . Post war clearance began in earnest in 1919. Men served in special Graves Concentration units ( initially volunteers from infantry and labour units) Later it was felt necessary to directly recruit men into the Labour Corps for a limited period of service. As can be imagined this was a very difficult task for the men employed not only having to work in a desolate, devastated landscape but the additional hazards from rusting battlefield debris and unexploded ordnance. These men definitely earned their extra pay’.
More details about the work of the Commissioner can be found on their interesting website , which also feature details of cemeteries throughout the world and details of service men and women who died in service.
Today the CWGC takes care of the graves and memorials of 1.7 million men and women from across the Commonwealth who died in the two World Wars. In total that is 1,146,918 burials.This gives you some idea of the enormous task that the CWGC carried out then , and continues today.
NOTE :The Friends of Holbeck Cemetery are grateful to CWGC for their care of these graves and only recently when FOHC found that two of them had been damaged ( one broken in half and one uprooted ) the Commission have responded very quickly and are going to repair them for us.