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