Ian’s talk this time, focused on war graves, world – wide. Passports at the ready, we set off on a series of remarkable journeys and experiences, many to countries many of us would find difficult to place on a map.
The emphasis, Ian stressed, was not on wallowing in sadness but on the uplifting experiences of those taking part in the regular tours organised by the travel arm of the R.B.L. in conjunction with Newmarket Travel. This enabled war widows, widowers, family members, friends, school groups or other interested members of the public to visit war graves safely and smoothly with experienced guides.
In 1914, a Red Cross worker realised that rough wooden crosses for graves was too impermanent. A graves registration group was established with plots of land donated by the country where the fallen lay, to be maintained in perpetuity by the British government. These incredible cemeteries were even planted out with plants typical of British gardens. All gravestones are of identical size and pattern, regardless of rank or status. All are equal in death. Cemeteries range in size from three or four to thousands. Every cemetery has a large cross of sacrifice with a bronze sword of St George, the patron saint of the fighters. A large stone of remembrance is always present and may be used as an altar for services.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorates 1 700 000 dead from the two world wars in 153 countries. You can trace these individuals via www.CWGC.org The site is of great interest and value, not just for tracing family members and friends killed but for information associated with these terrible events. Additionally, many of thousands who were killed are in civilian cemeteries worldwide.
Artefacts still come to light. Battlefields s yield bones, uniform fragments, weapons and personal belongings of the fallen. Appropriate finds may be displayed in museums. Sometimes, it is possible to identify individuals and this can be of some comfort to those who still remember people lost in action.
Different countries commemorate their fallen in different ways. America tends to repatriate their fallen to Arlington Cemetery. The Russians have a valley with a huge statue of a soldier at one end and at the other, a mother carrying a child. This represents Mother Russia weeping over the millions who were killed.
In Britain, the government will still pay for a war widow to visit the grave of their husband on one occasion.
Ian spoke of visits he has made all over the globe. Always, the graves are cared for, respected and appreciated by families. Would you not think that these would act as a deterrent to further killing? Nothing seems to deter slaughter on an industrial scale. Good will triumph over evil but why so long, Oh Lord?
The next meeting is our party at the Golf Club on 10th December. Fine food and the incredible Cronk Illiam Scratchers will entertain. Ring Corrie on 843502.