Visit the Somme memorials and cemeteries

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission [CWGC]

The Thiepval Memorial

When you visit the Somme memorials and cemeteries the Commonwealth War Graves Commission sites are well worth a visit. 

I well remember the first time I visited The Somme I decided to use a highlighter pen to mark all the military cemeteries in the area. My local Michelin map quickly became a sea of pink marks - I gave up after marking 30 or so. There are just so many, and reflect the CWGC’s policy that soldiers should be buried near where they fell, and with those they served, and died, with. So you will find lots of small, intimate, well-tended cemeteries, which all have the feel of an English country garden.

The Imperial War Graves Commission [later to become the Commonwealth War Grave Commission] was established by Royal Charter on 21 May 1917, and its work began in earnest at the end of the First World War. Once land for cemeteries and memorials had been guaranteed, the enormous task of recording the details of the dead could begin. By 1918, some 587,000 graves had been identified and a further 559,000 casualties were registered as having no known grave.

CWGC cemeteries all have some common design features. They are surrounded by a low wall, with uniform headstones in a garden setting.  A striking Cross of Sacrifice is complemented by a massive Stone of Remembrance. Near the entrance you can find a register of all the burials in the cemetery, located in metal cupboard, marked with a cross. 

Every grave is marked by a headstone, 76cms tall, 38 cms wide, and 7.6 cms thick. The headstone contains the national emblem or regimental badge, rank name, number, date of death and age, inscribed above an appropriate religious symbol, and a more personal dedication chosen by relatives. Gravestones for unidentified soldiers bear the epitaph developed by Rudyard Kipling: A Soldier of the Great War known unto God. 

Newfoundland Memorial Park 

As you walk in the Newfoundland Memorial Park from the British front line, past the ‘danger tree’, you will find a small, intimate cemetery: Hawthorn Ridge Cemetery No 2. 

Also in the Park you can see the memorial with the kilted Highlander of the 51st [Highland] Division which commemorates the men of the 51st [Highland] Division who captured the village of Beaumont Hamel on 13 November 1916.

The Thiepval Memorial

When you Visit The Somme memorials and cemeteries be sure to see the Thiepval Memorial. Thiepval is a small village which sits on the Thiepval ridge, which formed part of the German fortified line, and it was bitterly fought over until it was captured by the British in November 1916.

It is now the site of the Thiepval Memorial which was designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, and unveiled on 31 July 1932. ( see at the top of the page) It is the largest British battle memorial in the world and its purpose is recorded on a simple plaque on the Memorial:

Here are recorded names of officers and men of the British Armies who fell on the Somme battlefields July 1915 February 1918 but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death 

As reminder of the joint Franco-British nature of the offensive there is a small cemetery at the base of the monument with 300 British and 300 French burials, most of which are unknown.

Before you leave you may wish to visit the new Visitors’ Centre which welcomes more than 150,000 visitors to the Memorial each year. It has an excellent series of displays in several languages showing what happened around Thiepval, and offers an excellent bookshop and maps of the First World War.

Fricourt German Cemetery

The terrible fighting on The Somme resulted in dreadful casualties on both sides, and you might be interested to include the German military cemetery at Fricourt when you Visit The Somme memorials and cemeteries.

The German military cemetery at Fricourt is the resting place for 17,027 German soldiers from the Somme battlefields for the whole duration of the First Word War.  

Work first started on the cemetery in 1920 by the French but it was not until 1929 that the German War Graves Commission [Volksbund Deutsche Kriegs Graberfursorgeolksbund - VDK] was able to start the permanent landscaping and architectural design. Work stopped during the Second World war, so it was not until 1966 that the VDK returned to France to finish building the Fricourt cemetery

Of the 17,000 soldiers buried at Fricourt only 5,057 have an individual grave. Most are buried in double graves at the foot of each cross, and they were not buried in in any logical time order.

The remains of 11,970 soldiers lie in communal graves, and of these 6.477 are unknown. The names of the identified burials are inscribed on metal plates at the rear of the cemetery in front of five symbolic stone crosses.

The stone crosses reflect the motif of five crosses which is used by the VDK throughout the German cemeteries and in the VDK logo. The theme of the five crosses originates from the design of a First World War cemetery known as the Vier Grenadier-Grab (Four Grenadiers Grave), which had been built in Poland by the founder of the VDK, Dr. Siegfried Emmo Eulen.

The most striking thing about the German cemeteries is the ‘feel’ or atmosphere.  Whereas the British military cemeteries have the feel of an English country garden, being open, bright, with lawns and flower beds, the German military cemeteries have a brooding, sombre and melancholy atmosphere.

If you found Visit the Somme memorials and cemeteries of interest link to:

Visit the Somme where to stay

Visit the Somme what to see

Visit the Somme - for some background on the conflict.

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