‘Let’s Talk of Graves, of Worms, and Epitaphs’

A sunny afternoon in Flanders’ fields.  Looks nice, doesn’t it?  All the pictures in this post, barring the final two, were taken in various different cemeteries in Belgian Flanders a fortnight ago (most will enlarge if you click them).

We begin, purely for comparison purposes, with some nice Portland stone headstones after a downpour.

And then some headstones that are looking a bit grubby,…

…as are these two,…

…and this lot, and yes, the green tinge is caused by the proximity of a large tree, but the rest is grubbiness,…

…and here we have early degrees of grubbiness*, or lack of, all in a row.

* I use this word quite deliberately with my optimistic hat firmly plonked on my head, because grubbiness can be cleaned.

These headstones (above & following) look somewhat the worse for wear,…

…nor do I much like the look of the top of this special memorial, either.  Have a close look at this one – which came first, the dark marks, or the apparent holes in the stone beneath them?

Modern laser-etched examples of a pristine Botticino marble headstone (left) and a pristine Portland Stone headstone (centre), with a not-so-pristine Portland Stone headstone, this one hand-carved, just a few headstones from the first, on the right.

These too appear to be suffering from something unpleasant (close-up below),…

…and I have no idea – of course I don’t – how those chips, or maybe chunks, that are missing from the headstone on the left occurred.  Although chips on the edges of headstones near the base are, for your information, often caused by lawn mowers, as you will frequently see in English churchyards.

By now you’re all thinking, ‘Okay, not great, but time does erode stone, and the CWGC are continuously replacing headstones where necessary*, it’ll all be okay’.  Fair enough.  We’ll see, as we continue.

*and indeed they are, as you can see here.

You might also be thinking this has something to do with recent rainy weather, but I assure you that there had been no precipitation of any sort this day – look at the sky!

Close-up of the two left-hand headstones in the previous shot.

So what think you now?  I mean, this is just a mess, isn’t it?

More (close-up below), and check out the rows behind, too.

And one more close-up – had I vandalised these headstones by spraying oil on them I could hardly have done a better job.  This, my friends, is not good, surely?  Nor, dare I say it, acceptable.


…these next pictures…

…cover a number of different cemeteries,…

…all with similar problems.

As we come to the end of this frankly disturbing post,…

…a few more individual headstones that have seen better times (the New Zealand headstone in the centre again showing the difference between wetness and grubbiness),…

…and presumably, if nothing is done extremely quickly,…

…are heading for even worse ones.

‘Now I am dead and laid in my grave – And that my bones are rotten – By this shall I remembered be – Or else I am forgotten’.  Rows of white headstones at Tyne Cot,…

…and a glimpse into a possible future.  Tyne Cot 2033 perhaps?  The first response from the CWGC, or at least the information office at the Menin Gate, has apparently suggested that a new fertilizer, one without pesticide, has caused a build-up of dirt on the headstones.  Really?  I think we have seen that the problem is (becoming) far worse than that.  If you feel like contacting the CWGC about any of this (by all means point them in the direction of this post), or if there is anything that you feel you or any of your friends or contacts can do to address what appears to be a really serious issue, please do so.  And be aware that currently the Menin Gate is being, or is about to be, cleaned……

Oh, and a Gold Star if you spotted the V.C. earlier on.

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12 Responses to ‘Let’s Talk of Graves, of Worms, and Epitaphs’

  1. Brian McTighe says:

    The VC is in the picture captioned “…all with similar problems”, the 6th grave from the left (first one on the back wall). I just hope it is not the CWGC cutting back on costs with the squeeze on finances. I can understand trying out new fertilizers, but the quality of some of some of the stone used perhaps does call into question if there are budget constraints in place. What price do you pay to those who paid the ultimate price!

    • Magicfingers says:

      Gold Star. Now, bonus question? There is another VC at the back of another picture. Any ideas?

      • Brian McTighe says:

        Got me foxed there. I had a look over the pictures a couple of times and couldn’t find another VC on the headstones. I did see a likely candidate but spotted there was another headstone with the same emblem a bit further down. Pretty unlikely that there would be two VC burials in one cemetery, but I do stand to be corrected if I am wrong. I suspect they were King’s Royal Rifle Corps graves. The KRRC badge and VC are a similar style of Maltese Cross.

        • Magicfingers says:

          It’s actually the cemetery in the third pic. Way at the back, but visible, is a V.C. special memorial all on its own. But you’ll have to wait for more details on that one – at least from me, at any rate!

  2. Peter Halls says:

    For what it’s worth I’m a CWGC volunteer who photographs and cleans when directed to, cwgc headstones in a part of Essex, we are only allowed to use a water and a soft brush to clean them. In the 3 years I’ve been inspecting headstones I’ve never seen anything like some of the blackened examples shown here. I have been told that the green algae that appears on the headstones in France & Belgium in the winter naturally disappears in the warmer months.
    I’m just waiting for someone to blame the state of the headstones in the photographs on ‘Climate Change’

  3. BDO says:

    An issue in the CWGC sites across Poland, too. It was reported and a response claimed it had arrangements for inspections as well as replacement of the visitor register that had been filled a year beforehand. A year later, it remained the case. Very disappointing!

  4. Jon T says:

    Genuinely horrendous see those stones in that state. Surely now the Centenary has passed the authorities do not think that no one cares any more and are managing “decline” in their maintenance regime ?

    I have contacted CWGC and pointed them in this direction…

  5. Alan Bond says:

    I am sure that CWGC are feeling the pinch on finances and need to cut costs but the cleaning of grave marker and memorials should be a key priority and not Just in high profile cemeteries such as Tyne Cot and Etaples. I remember severely warned off by a municipal cemetery worker for cleaning the markers in a Hampshire cemetery. He told me that CWCG policy was that they should not be cleaned. The banking up of soil and growth of flowering plants at the base of markers looks nice but surely adds to the problem of the green and black growths on the stones as well as masking personal inscriptions. It also might be more cost effective for borders to filled with stone chippings.

    Hope you enjoyed your trip. On my recent trip to England I came across a couple of memorials that I think would interest have you seen the war memorial on tge top of Portland and the DDay memorial stone bench at Hursley Hants.

  6. Magicfingers says:

    Thanks gents. Your comments are much appreciated, as you well know. We shall see what we shall see.

  7. Alan Bond says:

    Posted today on CWCG Instagram.

    Today on #International DayForBiological Diversity we’re reaffirming our commitment to enhancing the biodiversity potential of our sites.

    Our usage of pesticides, herbicides and biocides has been significantly reduced and we are expanding the use of an enzyme-based, headstone cleaning product to additional regions, to support the continued phase-out of biocides.

    This will mean headstones will have a more natural look, as originally intended by the IWGC and our sites will play host to a wider cast of living characters.

    • Magicfingers says:

      I shall use a phrase that I promise you I once heard a west country native utter when hearing potentially bad news (therefore to be read in a west country accent), “That makes me prostrate with dismal”.
      And before anyone accuses me of lacking empathy with our insect friends, in another guise I am a photographer of moths and other little beasties, so it would simply be untrue.

  8. Jon T says:

    I fully understand the reducing of the use of pesticides but I would say that the evidence suggests that they need to either find a more effective enzyme based headstone cleaning product or failing that increase the frequency which they are cleaned.

    I wonder what the source of their claim that the IWGC originally intended to have a “more natural look” actually is ? Plus what that actually meant – presumably not horribly black and illegible ?

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