Cemeteries & Battlefield Memorials

An Introduction to Cemeteries & Battlefield Memorials

Plaque from the Stourbridge Memorial

This plaque reminds us that many of the Men of Dudley died beyond the Western Front. Their names are recorded on Memorials at places like Doiran (Greece), Helles (Turkey), Basra (Mesopotamia) and Jerusalem (Palestine). Those lost at sea are commemorated on the three great Royal Navy Memorials at Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth. There are many distant cemeteries, among them those that served military hospitals at Malta, Alexandria, Baghdad and the prisoner of war camps in Germany. Many of the wounded died at home and are buried in civic cemeteries and quiet churchyards. Wherever they are, the distinctive headstone indicates a casualty of the Great War.

The desire for Remembrance, even before 1918, was almost instinctive in local communities and this helps to explain why so many War Memorials were established. Civic Memorials were often quite complex to organise but churches, chapels, schools, clubs and works were usually among the earliest to set them up. Those in Dudley are all different but distinctive in the style chosen for commemoration. Some have since disappeared but it is estimated that over eighty existed. Those that remain are usually well tended but the men recorded remain just names. What they did and who they were now deserves to be remembered and this is what this project hopes to achieve.

The decision not to bring the dead soldiers back to Britain for burial was very controversial in 1918. Instead, the missing were commemorated by name on great Memorials for particular areas of the conflict and those temporarily buried on the battlefield were re-buried with individually named but identical headstones in cemeteries close to where they died. In some ways the outburst of wild red poppies on the battlefields symbolised hope rather than death and this symbol still remains powerful. Today, after nearly a century the cemeteries with their headstones present a majestic array while the huge lists of names by regiment on the Battlefield Memorials are a powerful reminder of the cost of war.

A Lion Of Ploegsteert

The Memorial and Cemetery photographs are accompanied by the name of one of the Men of Dudley on the Memorial. Divisional Memorials were also erected at sites of well known actions. They carry no names but many Dudley men served in these Divisions. All the Memorials possess a distinctive character, as typified by this

Imperial War Graves Commission

The work of the Commission, later the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, was immense and has continued to be invaluable a century later. It was led at the start by General Sir Fabian Ware who insisted on the controversial principle of burying the dead in cemeteries close to where they died. No repatriation of bodies to the home country was permitted with the exception of the ‘Unknown Warrior’ who was buried in Westminster Abbey on Remembrance Day 1919. The remains of four soldiers were placed in coffins and a senior officer, in blindfold, picked one.

The Commission appointed three of the best known architects of the time to design the great monuments and cemeteries. Though different in both character and approach, the designs have retained their powerful dignity ever since. The architects were Edwin Lutyens who also designed the Cenotaph in Whitehall, Reginald Blomfield and Herbert Baker. Many other architects helped to design the many cemeteries.

The work had to be acceptable to the governments of France, Belgium and other war-torn countries but the great generosity of France and Belgium enabled the land to be given in perpetuity to the British government. Agreement also had to be reached with Empire allies and the USA. Grave registration was the first practical task. Identifying bodies, which had been buried for some time was very difficult. To take one example, Lt Felix Baxter was fatally wounded during a raid near Arras in 1916 and was taken prisoner. After the raid he was awarded the Victoria Cross, one of three to Dudley men. Only in 1920 was his body identified in a nearby village where he had died of wounds and had been decently buried by German troops in a churchyard. He was re-buried in Fillièvres Cemetery 20 miles away and the contents of his wallet sent to his widow.

The obligatory Portland headstone has both simplicity and dignity. To the names of the deceased were added the regimental badge, date of death and an optional form of words at the base. The same headstone was used to commemorate those who died of wounds at home. They may be seen in both town and church cemeteries. The main cemeteries also incorporate a prominent Cross of Sacrifice with sword pointed down and a Stone of Remembrance. The Stone has the appearance of an altar and is some 12 feet long and 10 tons in weight. Sir Edwin Lutyens was the designer and Rudyard Kipling chose what has become the very well known dedication from the 44th chapter of the Book of Ecclesiasticus:

Their Name Liveth For Evermore

Stone of Remembrance at Cement House Cemetery, Poelcapelle, Ypres

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