With war graves at some 23,000 locations worldwide, there’s no shortage of CWGC sites to see, but how many visitors pause to wonder why the cemetery is called what it is?
For many, the cemetery name is just something you watch out for on one of our green and white roadside signs, or that you enter into Google Maps on your way to see a particular grave. The names have become so accepted, after a century of care, that their origins may have been forgotten. But while many cemeteries are simply named after the village or town where they are sighted, others have a more interesting tale to tell.
Here are some of my favourites but you may well have your own. Why not get in touch and tell us yours?
The Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey is home to some of the most moving CWGC sites to be found anywhere. Combined with the largely unchanged landscape, the evocative names of sites like Lone Pine, Shrapnel Valley and Lancashire Landing tell something of the ferocity of the fighting here during the campaign. But for me, one name stands out – the wonderfully titled Johnston’s Jolly Cemetery. The cemetery was named after the commander of the 2nd Australian Division Artillery, Brigadier-General G J Johnston, who, it is alleged, liked to ‘jolly up’ the enemy with his artillery. Whenever I have been lucky enough to visit this cemetery I can’t help but wonder if his men shared his enthusiasm!
Humour is not something you would normally associate with a war cemetery, but in Belgium three sites reveal something of the dark trench humour that developed among those serving at the front.
Dozinghem, Haringhe (Bandaghem) and Mendinghem are Casualty Clearing Station cemeteries – sighted along the medical evacuation route to provide fit burial for those who succumbed to their wounds. The troops who served here called them Bandaging Them, Mending Them, and Dozing Them – names that have now become part of the Flemish landscape.
A number of CWGC cemetery names make mention of modes of transport. Aeroplane Cemetery in Belgium was originally called ‘the New Cemetery’ but by October 1914 it had acquired its present name from the wreck of an aeroplane which lay near the present position of the Cross of Sacrifice. Motor Car Corner Cemetery marked the point beyond which military cars were not allowed to proceed towards the front.
The Newfoundland Memorial Park at Beaumont-Hamel on the Somme in France is preserved as a battlefield and permanent memorial to those who served and died here. Within the park are three CWGC cemeteries.
Hunter’s Cemetery contains just over 40 burials. It is a small and unusual site with the headstones running in a circle around the foot of the Cross of Sacrifice. The cemetery was built over a large shellhole, in which soldiers of the 51st Highland Division, who fell in the capture of Beaumont-Hamel in November 1916, were buried after the battle. It is believed the cemetery is named after the Reverend Hunter – an Army Chaplain attached to the Black Watch. The ‘History of the Black Watch in the Great War’ states…
"The chaplains, Gordon and Hunter, did splendid work on the days following the fight, searching the battlefield under continuous shell fire, and so well did they carry out this work that every missing man of the Battalion was accounted for."
Behind that simple statement is a story of bravery, dedication and care typified by men of the Army Chaplains Department and the Graves Registration Units. This was hard, often gruesome work that took an emotional toll on those involved. And yet every name on a headstone today is testament to their dedication and attention to detail.
What’s in a name? Quite a lot it would seem!