British Military Headstones – The Rareties Part One: Special Memorials

The ubiquitous CWGC headstone, with its standard information – regimental emblem, service number, rank, name, regiment, date of death and sometimes age, above a Latin cross with perhaps a short personal message at the base – is sadly so familiar to us all. 

In fact, there are three standard CWGC headstones that you will find in British military cemeteries on the Western Front, all of which are pictured above; the central headstone features the Latin cross, the headstones of the two artillerymen on the left feature the Broad cross, and the two Jewish headstones on the right are inscribed with the Star of David.

And although the vast majority of British headstones adhere to one of these three designs, there are a number of standard, and some not-so-standard, variations to the basic theme that you might well come across, so this first of three supplementary posts to the recent ‘Headstone of the Unknown Soldier’ series looks at headstones of identified men whose exact place of burial is unknown.

You may well find headstones – referred to as special memorials – that include the inscription ‘Known to be buried in this cemetery’, such as those above & below,…

…although that on the memorial on the right here, due to the use of the Broad cross on this particular headstone, has only just about been squeezed in at the top!

Equally likely to be seen,…

…are headstones featuring the inscription ‘Believed to be buried in this cemetery’.  Even on the headstone of a Victoria Cross holder, as on the right here.

In fact, it is quite likely that you will find headstones with ‘Known to be buried in this cemetery’ & ‘Believed to be buried in this cemetery’ next to each other,…

…as in these examples,…

…although special memorials such as these always raise question marks in my mind, in that do the inscriptions mean that the men concerned are known or believed to be buried beneath one of the totally unknown headstones in the cemetery, or are they simply known to be buried somewhere within the cemetery boundary, their graves having been lost and therefore now unmarked?

Considering we know of one cemetery where the special memorials definitely refer to the large number of totally unknown soldiers’ headstones within (Croix-du-Bac British Cemetery) and considering there are other cemeteries with more special memorials than unknown headstones (and thus there must be some unmarked graves), it seems that either might apply.

The same applies to some of the other variations you might come across, ‘Buried elsewhere in this cemetery’ being equally ambiguous.

Side-by-side, ‘Buried elsewhere in this cemetery’, ‘Known to be buried in this cemetery’ & ‘Believed to be buried in this cemetery’.

The headstones in the first two rows above and in the shot below all bear the inscription ‘Buried near this spot’,…

…which seems less ambiguous; these men are buried nearby but the exact position within the cemetery is unknown and therefore their exact grave sites are unmarked.

Occasionally you might see a headstone with ‘Believed to be’ inscribed at the top,…

…although one does wonder exactly what the parameters were for a headstone to be thus inscribed, and, perhaps, how many unknown men’s headstones could have had these words and a name added back in the early days of the cemeteries.

These headstones are inscribed at the top with ‘To the memory of’, their reason d’être explained on each one.  The burial ground where these two men were interred in early 1915 was destroyed in later battles, and they are now remembered elsewhere by these two special memorials,…

…whereas here we have a man killed in action, on the left, and two who died as prisoners-of-war (one an airman) and were buried by the Germans, all three graves later lost.

Two more men who died in German captivity (left & centre) and another man killed in action on the right.  There are slight differences in the style of the inscriptions, if you look carefully, and it’s interesting that the inscription on the New Zealand private’s headstone on the left uses the word ‘enemy’, as in ‘buried by the enemy’, as opposed to ‘buried by the Germans’ – click to enlarge, of course.

Just as likely, special memorials can often look like this, where details of the original burial ground of, in this case, three soldiers, or, as in the shot below, two soldiers, are inscribed on a single, otherwise blank, headstone – all such headstones have Kipling’s words, ‘Their glory shall not be blotted out’, inscribed beneath the text, and are known as ‘Kipling memorials’ because of it – with each man remembered by individual special memorial headstones on either side.

So don’t be fooled; these are memorials.  There are no actual burials beneath any of the ‘To the memory of’ headstones featured in this post.

We end with more special memorial headstones to two, three & four soldiers whose graves have been lost,…

…and two more, again to two and three missing soldiers.  Like the previous examples, all these have associated adjacent memorial headstones to the individual soldiers concerned, although not pictured here.  Which begs the question, perhaps, as to what one might find where considerably more than a small number of soldiers, whose graves have been lost, need to be remembered by name.  Next post.

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12 Responses to British Military Headstones – The Rareties Part One: Special Memorials

  1. nicholas Kilner says:

    Very interesting! I can’t help but wonder if there are remains buried beneath the named ‘in memory of’ headstones. I had always assumed not, but viewing them alongside others which state ‘to the memory of these three soldiers’ clearly shows that remains were exhumed from ‘lost graves’ and reinterred in these cemeteries. If there are, then it may also answer the question as to why these headstones exist at all, when most of the missing are simply listed on memorials.
    The whole “known to be buried” and “Thought to be buried” really does bring the question of just how many sets of remains any particular cemetery holds into question, as well we know! I had a feeling the C du B might pop up in this one 😉
    Great post!

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks Nick! I was thinking of you as I put the C du B link in!
      I am probably being thick but I am unsure exactly what you mean by: ‘to the memory of these three soldiers’ clearly shows that remains were exhumed from ‘lost graves’ and reinterred in these cemeteries. Why?

      • Nick Kilner says:

        Actually it might be me who is being thick. I had assumed the headstone stood alone, and with no names on it could only have meant that unknown bodies had been recovered and were buried beneath it. However, looking at one of the earlier photographs I see that it has named headstones on either side, which the central stone is presumably referring to.
        I blame you for misleading photographs! Lol

        • Magicfingers says:

          Gotcha! I accept the blame, mainly because I have learnt, over the years, that most things are my fault……
          Actually, I shall make the text clearer, so you’ve helped out, once again. Cheers!

          • Nick Kilner says:

            Nicely done. I still feel a wally, but it might stop someone else coming to the same conclusion, so probably as well I spoke 😉

  2. Magicfingers says:

    Well don’t. It wasn’t written clearly enough, and hopefully now is, and equally hopefully no one else, as you say, will now misunderstand, so all’s good in the ‘hood.

  3. Jack says:

    Interesting point: If you look at the two Jewish gravestones at the top of the page you can see lots of small stones atop each gravestone.

    This is because it is the Jewish custom for each visitor to a grave to place a small stone on it, rather than flowers.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Absolutely, Jack, and although I have nothing whatsoever to do with the Jewish faith, I have left many a stone on my travels. It shows that someone remembered. Very rare to find as many stones as seen in the picture you mention.

      • Jack says:

        That’s a very nice demonstration of respect from you.

        I am Jewish, so if you ever need any assistance with translation of Hebrew inscriptions or anything else for your research that I might be able to help with, please email me.

  4. Malcolm Grant says:

    My Grandfather served in WW1. He saw combat in numerous actions. He was wounded but survived the war. He passed away in 1956 in Edinburgh. He lies in an unmarked grave.

    Is there a process to obtain a tombstone or marker from the Ministry of Defence for my Grandfather who survived the war.

    Thank You

    • Magicfingers says:

      The answer, rightly or wrongly, is no. The dates for CWGC headstones were set at a couple of years after each World War, and I’m afraid that outside these very specific dates, no CWGC headstone would be provided.

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