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St. Symphorien Military Cemetery

Virtual Tour of St. Symphorien Military Cemetery

21 August 2014

It is exactly 100 years ago these days (21-23 August 2014) that the First World War broke out. Many of the first casualties are buried at St. Symphorien Military Cemetery in Belgium. This small tour tells you all about this remarkable place's main features.

Click here to read all about our special St. Symphorien Military Cemetery Open Day which will take place on 23 August 2014.

 

St Symphorien Virtual Tour

The Battle of Mons was the first major clash between British and German forces in Europe. The British Expeditionary Force temporarily held back the German First Army before being forced to withdraw. It was the start of the 'Great Retreat', which ended at the Battle of the Marne in early September, where British and French forces finally halted the German advance.

After the Battle of Mons, British and German dead were buried in civilian graveyards and also in field cemeteries in surrounding areas. This proved too difficult to maintain, so the German army planned a new cemetery for these graves.

In 1916, the Germans reached an agreement with Jean Houzeau de Lehaie, a local landowner, to build the cemetery here. A Latin tablet near the entrance explains the donation of the land.

The German army exhumed hundreds of bodies and brought them here. Most were from the northern and north-eastern part of the battlefield, particularly around Nimy and Obourg where German troops attempted to cross the Mons-Conde canal and British forces fought to stop them.

The cemetery was officially inaugurated on 6 September 1917.

 

German Obelisk

This obelisk was built by the German army in 1917. It is dedicated to the 'German and English' soldiers who died at Mons. From the start, this cemetery honoured the dead of both sides.

German Obelisk

After the liberation of Mons, the cemetery was taken over by the British army and then by the Imperial War Graves Commission. Several graves were made here towards the end of the war and after the armistice, and some graves which could not be maintained in nearby villages and towns were moved here over the following years.

There are now 513 servicemen buried or commemorated here: 284 German and 229 Commonwealth.

 

German graves

The German graves here have different designs, sometimes with a larger headstone for officers. Many of the regiments whose soldiers lie here were based in the north of Gemany, in towns like Kiel, Hamburg and Bremen, and in Schleswig-Holstein.

Some graves have one or two unknown German soldiers buried in the same plot. In the far corner is Oskar Niemeyer, who swam across the Mons canal to release a pedestrian bridge to help his comrades cross.

Niemeyer

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission cares for the graves of some 2,500 Germans at our sites in Belgium alone.

Dease / Price Plot

Captain Kenneth Roy and Gefreiter Reinhold Dietrich lie alongside one another - each buried by their enemies but united in death.

Roy and Dietrich

Lieutenant Maurice Dease of the Royal Fusiliers was born in Ireland. He died of wounds suffered while manning a machine gun on the rail bridge at Nimy. He received a posthumous Victoria Cross for his actions. His remains were kept in a family vault in St Symphorien and brought here after the war, when he was buried alongside his friend Joseph Mead.

George Lawrence Price is believed to be the last Commonwealth soldier killed before the Armistice came into effect. He was originally buried in Havré and was brought here after the Second World War. The Canadians liberated Mons in November 1918.

 

Parr / Ellison

John Parr was seventeen when he died, and is generally believed to be the first British soldier killed on the Western Front. He was a reconnaissance cyclist, sent to scout ahead of the army.

Opposite Parr is George Ellison, a forty-year old family man from Leeds. He died not long before the Armistice came into effect, and is thought to be the last British soldier killed on the Western Front.

 

Middlesex Circle

The central monument was erected by the Germans in 1917. It mistakenly but respectfully refers to the 'Royal Middlesex Regiment', not its official name at the time.

Middlesex Circle

 

Fusiliers / RIR Plot

Many of the men here are unknown soldiers. More than 100 of those buried at St Symphorien are unidentified. The Commonwealth soldiers lie beneath a headstone bearing the words written by Rudyard Kipling: 'A Soldier of the Great War, Known Unto God.' Their names are inscribed on the CWGC memorial at Le Ferté sous Jouarre.