British Military Headstones – The Rareties Part Three: A Question of Crosses & Other Variations

We near the end of this series of posts with a look at some of the less common headstones, or groups of headstones, all marking the graves of identified men, that you might find on your travels among the British military cemeteries of the Western Front. 

We begin with headstones that feature two names, such as the Royal Warwickshire Regiment men in the first photo, and the two examples above.  Note that both the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers buried beneath the headstone on the right died on the same day, 15th October 1918, whereas the two East Lancashire Regiment men buried beneath the headstone on the left (boys, really – one of them was just sixteen) died a day apart in March 1915.

Not that two names on a headstone necessarily mean two burials.  On occasion, you might discover a headstone such as those pictured above.  Both mark the grave of a single soldier, and both have the names of other family members, killed in action or who died in service, a brother on the headstone on the left, and two brothers on the right, added to the headstone.  Headstones such as these were thus inscribed at the behest of the family concerned, and they most certainly would have had to pay for the privilege.  As in the previous picture, there was simply no room for any religious symbol on headstones like these.

And we’ve seen headstones with two regimental emblems to unknown soldiers in previous posts; here we have three examples of dual emblems, this time for identified men.

These three headstones also feature two names inscribed on each, although both names refer to the same soldier.  Headstones of men who served under an alias, for reasons known only to themselves (we can always speculate), are far from infrequent.

And you will certainly find headstones with no religious symbol, those with neither cross nor personal inscription, as in the example on the left, looking sadly bare to my eyes.

Some of the groups of headstones you are likely to find need a bit of explaining.  This quite straightforward group shows six men of the York & Lancaster Regiment, their dates of death 13th or 14th June 1917, their names inscribed on the two outer headstones, with a central headstone featuring only the regimental emblem and Latin cross.

This group of five headstones (ignoring, briefly, the man buried on the far right) marks the graves of twelve men of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment who all died on 2nd December 1915, three names each on four headstones this time, with a central headstone featuring, once again, only the regimental emblem and Latin cross. However, an interesting detail, returning to the sixth headstone of Private Duty (really – enlarge the picture) on the far right, is that he too is a man of the Loyal North Lancashires, and yet his headstone features the regimental emblem within the Broad cross, which is the normal choice for the regiment, as opposed to the Latin one with the emblem placed above.  So why the different styles?  We shall return to this question later in the post.

More complex, this curious group of headstones shows how many combinations must be possible, so I’m inclined to let you sort this one out for yourselves.  Here’s what you need to know: there are ten men buried here beneath five headstones, all died on 14th October 1918, eight are London Scottish, two are Gordon Highlanders, and the emblems are, from left, London Scottish, London Scottish & London Scottish/Gordon Highlanders combined.

The three previous shots all include headstones with only names on them, but all have an associated Latin cross and relevant emblem or emblems on one of the adjacent headstones.  Very occasionally you might come across headstones such as the two in the centre of this picture.  No emblems nor religious symbols here either, for obvious reasons, and unlike the last few examples, these headstones have no connection with those on either side.  Seven soldiers lie here, four men from the Prince of Wales’ Own Civil Service Rifles, and one each from 12th Bn. London Regiment Rangers, King’s Royal Rifle Corps & Queen Victoria’s Rifles.  Five of these men died on 1st September 1918, one on 2nd, and one on 5th September 1918, and the fact of the matter is that here there was simply no space for the addition of anything other than the soldiers’ details.  But headstones such as these are few and far between, at least on my watch.

Nine 22nd Bn. Australian Infantrymen, all killed on 22nd September 1917.  There being no space to include a headstone with just emblem and cross, a single Latin cross on the only headstone with just one name inscribed upon it serves for all nine graves (and if you look back at the first photo in this post, you will see that the same applies there).

Above, another group of Australian headstones, and below, a group of Hampshire Regiment headstones, again all with two names inscribed upon them; look along the row in both examples and you can see that the single Latin cross is afforded a headstone all of its own.

Very occasionally, you might find arrangements such as that above, where headstones to men ‘Believed to be buried in this cemetery’ flank a central plaque,…

…which details the whys & wherefores,…

…and the cemeteries are host to a range of larger memorials, from the vast screen wall at Tyne Cot, with its thousands upon thousands of names,…

…to smaller memorials, such as the seven unique memorials that remember the New Zealand missing of the Great War, two pictured above (their explanatory panels shown below), all to be found in cemeteries near to the actions in which they died.

You might even come across a cemetery where the headstones lie flat,…

…or even one with no headstones at all.

Two more very unusual individual headstones, that on the left the only one in this series not taken on the Western Front (this Australian lies in an English cemetery), and that on the right a surely unique headstone to a New Zealand chaplain,…

…followed by, with thanks to Morag, who unwittingly prompted the next few photos, these rather curiously shaped headstones,…

…all but one of which mark the graves of Imperial War Graves Commission officials or workers whose wish was to be buried with the men for whose graves they were responsible or tended.

The majority of these graves date from the 1920s, such as that on the left above, although one headstone in the previous photograph is dated 1951.  The headstone on the right is inscribed like a standard CWGC headstone, but the cut corners, the age of the major buried here, and his date of death, December 1921, tell us that he too was a civilian working for the IWGC at the time of his death.

Grave of an IWGC worker who died in 1938 in a corner of a Belgian communal cemetery,…

…grave of a Belgian civilian in a British cemetery, included here because, being a civilian, his headstone features cut corners (compare with the French military interpreter’s headstone we saw here), and a 21st Century grave of a CWGC employee.

At which point it’s time to return the question of the Broad cross versus the Latin cross.  When it came to replacing the wooden crosses in British military cemeteries with the Portland Stone grave markers we are all so familiar with today, the different regiments, along with the countries of the Empire who participated, were given the choice of using either the Latin cross or the Broad cross on their headstones.  Most chose to use the Latin cross, but some regiments, and one country, chose the Broad cross, and by so doing created a whole range of variations to the general rule that I shall attempt to explain here, using examples mainly from the Royal Field Artillery & the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, both of whom chose to use the Broad Cross, two regulation R.F.A. headstones pictured in the shot above.

Four of these five headstones belong to men of the R.F.A., but here only the two in the centre feature the Broad cross, and the two at either end the Latin cross.  Why would that be?  Well, what seems to be the rule is that, notwithstanding the usual regimental choice, the Broad cross is only ever used on headstones identifying the graves of fully identified men.  Graves of unidentified soldiers where only the nationality or regiment are known, any and all forms of special memorial (with one, and only one, exception), and other non-standard headstones such as the two flanking headstones in the shot above – did you notice that both are men who served under an alias, and headstones that include an alias are categorised as non-standard? – all only ever use the Latin cross, never the Broad Cross.

The exception to the rule?  Special memorial headstones that are associated with Duhallow Blocks, such as those above – the headstone to the Worcestershire Regiment man on the right proves the point.

Back to the Royal Field Artillery, and here we have five examples of non-standard R.F.A. headstones, all bearing the Latin cross as opposed to the Broad one.  The central headstone is a typical headstone to an unidentified artilleryman, an officer in this instance; centre left is a man of the R.F.A. attached to the R.H.A.; centre right is another man who served under an alias; far right is a man ‘Known to be buried in this cemetery’, and finally far left is a man ‘Believed to be buried in this cemetery’ which, incidentally, features yet another quite unusual variation – compare the R.F.A. emblem on this headstone with the others.

Similarly, all identified New Zealand burials you will find on the Western Front feature the Broad cross with the New Zealand fern emblem in the centre, as shown above.

New Zealand special memorials, such as the men above ‘Believed to be buried in this cemetery’,…

..and these men ‘Known to be buried in this cemetery,…

…and all unidentified New Zealand soldiers (left & right, a standard headstone of an identified man in the centre) have headstones featuring the Latin cross with a circular emblem at the top.  And these same basic rules can be extrapolated across all the British regiments who chose to use the Broad cross.  Which, I think, after ten posts on the subject, brings us to a point where you know pretty much all you need to know about British Great War military headstones, and the numerous variations thereof, that you might come across on your travels on the Western Front.

All of which means that, apart from a brief, but necessary, coda next time, we shall be returning to more normal stuff, if touring battlefield cemeteries is normal, soon.

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6 Responses to British Military Headstones – The Rareties Part Three: A Question of Crosses & Other Variations

  1. Morag Lindsay Sutherland says:

    oh my goodness what a HUGE amount of information – i will need to keep this post and read it very carefully a few times over- all the best from the frosty north of Scotland where indeed I did unwittingly post a question and got my answer – THANK YOU

  2. Could civilians ever have their names added to a military headstone or was there a strict ban on this happening? I know of a man who died the day after armistice day 1918 and his mother’s body was placed in his grave in 1923. She had lost three out of four serving sons but was not commemorated on his stone.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Neil. Good question, that. This link will take you to the official CWGC policy on headstones:
      ‘Personal inscriptions may be in any language chosen by the next-of-kin. The inscription should not include references to family members or circumstances that the casualty would not have known, or repeat details engraved elsewhere on the grave marker e.g. date of death.’

      • Neil Collingwood says:

        Thanks Magicfingers,

        Now I should be able to find the answer to any questions I may ever have about cwgc headstones – although this may be the only one that I do ever need an answer to.



        • Magicfingers says:

          Yeah, you say that now……….once you dive into the realm of headstones…………..well, it’s taken eighteen posts, I think, to cover it all!! Cheers!

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