Woking Muslim Cemetery (1915)

Those of you who don’t check out the ‘Back in Blighty’ Category will have missed this, and I think you might find it of interest.

In the south east corner of Horsell Common, near Woking in Surrey, and easily missed if you don’t know where to look, are the brick walls and ornate domed entrance to the now-abandoned Woking Muslim Cemetery.  Built early in the First World War to receive burials of Indian soldiers who had died at the Indian Army Hospital in Brighton Pavilion, during the 1960s the bodies were removed to Brookwood Military Cemetery.

And here they are today.  The Muslim Plot at Brookwood Military Cemetery.

For those of you who don’t know Brookwood, here’s just a small part of it.  This view looks across the headstones of the South African Plot in the foreground, with New Zealand and Canadian graves behind.  To the right can be seen the Brookwood (United Kingdom 1914-18) Memorial, and the Muslim Plot is visible in the far background, the furthest graves to the right of and beyond the small tree in the centre.

Update 2015:  Things are much better now.

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16 Responses to Woking Muslim Cemetery (1915)

  1. Sophena A. Chisembele says:

    Thank you for publishing this brief history of the Muslim War Graves here in the U.K. My father Yusuf M. Ali served in the R.A.F. during the 2nd World War. He died on the 12th May 1947 at the end of the war and he was buried here. His grave was vandalised and later the War Graves Commission exhumed and reburied his body along with others in the Brookwood Military Cementary, Muslim Section.

  2. Magicfingers says:

    And thank you for posting your comment Sophena. It is very sad that your father’s original grave was vandalised but, if I may say so, I think he is now in just the right place. I have visited Brookwood Cemetery a number of times, and I think it’s a beautiful place. There’s a bench not far from where your father is buried where I sit each time I visit, pondering the meaning of life, death, war, and doubtless many less fundamental things. It’s a good place to think, and to remember. And to be thankful.
    By the way, I do have photographs of all the headstones in the Muslim Plot, including, of course, your father’s, and one of these days I shall get round to posting them.

    • Sophena A. Chisembele says:

      Thank you very much for responding. I am so delighted to read your comments. My father came to England in the 1920’s he was a merchant seaman travelling between India and England. He married my mother an English lady. His history is so very interesting. He was only 42 when he died and he would have been so proud of my mother, ostracized by her family, but who still managed to bring up their 4 children. My two brothers both successful business men; my sister Senior Lecturer on Medieval History in Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand and me who spent over 40 years in Africa!. His grave was regularly visited by his family. When these graves were vandalised my mother made contacts with the War Graves Commission who thanked her for bring the matter to their attention and subsequently the graves were reburied, as you know, in Brookwood Military Cemetry. I know the bench you talk of !

  3. Magicfingers says:

    Sorry for the delay in replying Sophena, but I have been away on a flying visit to Dublin to visit some military graves over there. Thanks so much for telling your story. Your family history sounds fascinating indeed. It can’t have been easy for both your parents before the War, let alone, as you say, for your mother after the War. Human beings are remarkably resilient and resourceful creatures, given the chance, and your family’s story proves the point. And talking of points, the whole point, really, of this website is not the cemeteries we visit and photograph, but the human beings whom we pay our respects to when we are there. There is a story behind every headstone, if we did but know it. Thank you for telling yours.

    And I’m glad we’ve shared the same bench, albeit at different times!

  4. Sophena A. Chisembele says:

    I am pleased to read your response. You are so right in what you say!
    The threads of history are amazing. Every life unique. And as your ‘name’ reminds me written in stone and existing forever.

    Sophena

  5. Zafar Iqbal says:

    “There is a story behind every headstone, if we did but know it.” Indeed and I am so glad to hear of your’s Sophena. I thought you both might find this of interest re- the above Muslim Cemetary. I have been involved over the last few years or so to to try to have the Cemetary renovated to its original form and install a “Garden of Rememberance” for those who gave their lives for this country so that our future generations can benefit and understand the sacrifices of so many. I am pleased to say thet these efforts to protect this valuable heritage site have come to fruition and with the help of English Heritage and Woking Borough Council the renovation work will start in the next few months.
    It is hoped that once the renovation of the Cemetary is completed there will be a website on the history of the site and stories of those buried there would be welcome.
    Zafar

    • Sophena A. Chisembele says:

      This is excellent news. Well done! I can’t think of a better way to mark and celebrate the lives of our fathers than a ‘Garden of Remembrance’. There were a mindless, ignorant few who thought they could desecrate their graves. Imposssible! they were heroes buried here and deserving of honour and the highest possible respect.

  6. Magicfingers says:

    Great news Zafar. And well said Sophena. If there is anything I can do to help, particularly with regard to the website as and when it comes into being, let me know. In the meantime I shall check at work whether we have any documentation regarding the cemetery that might be of interest, although as far as I know the National Archives is the place to go. Have you checked the contemporary local papers (Surrey Ad & Woking N & M), because a colleague tells me that the cemetery is mentioned more than once.

    • zafar iqbal says:

      Will keep you both updated on the progress of the project. Thanks for the kind offer and if you do have anything at your work re the cemetary it would be most appreciated. I am aware of the National Archives as well as the British Library which I have visited a few times already and is a treasure trove for information on the cemetary.

  7. karamat says:

    i am really interested to learn more about this amazing man. as someone who also married a white woman, albeit only 30 years, ago, i am also interested in the story of this brave lady he married.

    • sophena alison chisembele says:

      I am so sorry I hadn’t visit this page for some years. I have been fully occupied writing a book on the Zambian freedom struggle and the aftermath, in which I have included some words on my parents.

      My mother was indeed a remarkable lady and their history unique. If you send me an email address, I will be happy to send you pages concerning my parents, from my book, which is not yet published but in the final stages.

      Sophena

      • Magicfingers says:

        Hopefully ‘Karamat’ will see your message at some point Sophena. Glad you returned!

        • sophena chisembele says:

          Thank you. I was prompted by the very good news that the Peace Garden will be official opened in November. I suspect through the excellent work of Dr Zafar Iqbal.

          Good to hear from you!

          • Magicfingers says:

            Undoubtedly through the excellent work of Zafar, Sophena. I presume he has been in contact with you recently. I trust it was ok to pass on your email to him.

  8. sophena chisembele says:

    Thank you. Yes absolutely pass my email on. It was indeed Zafar who informed of the opening of the Peace Garden and has honoured with an invitation to attend.
    So nice to keep in touch even if it is spasmodic!

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