Feature: Commonwealth Cemeteries & Memorials
Almost 750,000 soldiers, airmen and sailors from Great Britain, Australia, Canada, the Indian subcontinent, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, the West Indies and other parts of the British Empire died during WWI on the Western Front, two-thirds of them in France. They were buried where they fell, in more than 1000 military cemeteries and 2000 civilian cemeteries that dot the landscape along a wide swathe of territory – 'Flanders Fields' – running roughly from Amiens and Cambrai north via Arras and Béthune to Armentières and Ypres (Ieper) in Belgium. French and German war dead were reburied in large cemeteries after the war. American war dead of the world wars were either repatriated (61%) or reburied in large cemeteries near where they died (39%).
The focal point of each Commonwealth cemetery, tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (www.cwgc.org), is the Cross of Sacrifice. Its free app allows you to search for graves and provides detailed information and real-time directions from your current location. Many of the headstones, made of Portland limestone, bear moving personal inscriptions composed by family members. Most cemeteries have a bronze Cemetery Register box that contains a visitors book, in which you can record your impressions, and a booklet with biographical details on each of the identified dead (Americans who died fighting with British forces can be spotted by their addresses). Some larger cemeteries also have a bronze plaque with historical information.