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British School children help reopen cemetery

22 June 2016

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission's Colne Valley Cemetery in Boezinge, near Ypres, Belgium, was officially reopened on June 22 in the presence of pupils from a Kent school and the British Ambassador to Belgium, Her Excellency Alison Rose, following an eight month long renovation.

School children from St John's Catholic Comprehensive School laid flowers on each of the 47 graves, alongside a local primary school from Boezinge, Gesubsidieerde Vrije Basisschool. Supporting the newly restored cemetery is a brand new educational brochure produced by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) for children aged between six and eight years old. 

The work has been made possible with financial support of the Province of West-Flanders, while the City of Ypres has facilitated and funded a pumping station nearby to remove excess water. The work at Colne Valley Cemetery was necessary to prevent this important site of memory from flooding during winter months.

The surrounding ground levels have risen considerably since the cemetery was first constructed and to solve the problem of flooding, the CWGC has raised the ground level of the cemetery by 1.2 metres on average.

Django Maekelberg, Head of Works for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, explained: "We dismantled all the headstones and structural features of the cemetery and then built everything up from scratch to ensure the cemetery will be accessible all year round and remain a fitting tribute to those buried here."

"The work has already been a success - as despite recent heavy rains the cemetery has not flooded.

To make the site more accessible, not only physically, but also "virtually" to younger visitors and their families, a unique educational brochure has been developed in cooperation with Miguel Bouttry from Rent a Guide.

This brochure is available in English, Dutch, French and German and can be obtained in "Klein Zwaanhof", the entrypoint for the trail "Ypres Salient North".

Head teacher of St John's Catholic Comprehensive School, Matt Barron, added: "It's an incredible honour for the pupils to play their part in the reopening ceremony of Colne Valley Cemetery.

"A key tenet of our school's Mission Statement is 'Service to Others'; one cannot think of a more pertinent embodiment of this phrase than the sacrifice made by these men 100 years ago. I am certain our pupils will gain a tremendous amount from this experience."