I love graveyards and cemeteries, none more so than the places the dead of the great war are buried in. Some are truly Silent Cities. Like all cities there are deep sometimes dark secrets hidden in the maze of alleys and backstreets and the little districts we call “Plots” and “Rows”. Sometimes it is the odd gravestone facing east. A name on a stone, long forgotten as most are. Sometimes the secrets are there, right in front of us. Maybe its a hidden bunker such as at Tyne Cot. One that is buried along side the dead, as opposed to the one the cross of sacrifice stands on.
Sometimes the secret is in the open. Walk along the main drag of a silent city and look down the rows and sometimes you will see a grave with a whole bunch of poppies and crosses in front of it. Ah yes it is known who is buried there. Without looking, it is the grave of a VC recipient, a boy soldier, or a shot at dawn. Never an unknown, there are two unknown VC recipients. One is buried near a distant cousin of my kids in Arlington i the USA.
“You have a cousin buried in Arlington?
No the kids do.
“What was his name?”
“Just like the President”
“Did he die in the war.?”
No, but he did get shot.
“Just like… Oh”
Break time over. The secret is the graves next to the VC recipient, boy soldier, or shot at dawn. No one knows who they are. We look but by the time we reach the cemetery exit, the Silent City has regained its secret from us. It is like we must never utter their name.
Sometimes the graveyard seems embarrassed. They might be a notice i the front entrance, So many dead from the First World War are buried here and hidden in plain view are the others who are commemorated. Secrets only learnt by going there.
Then there are the dark secrets the living do not want to tell you. Take Beacon Edge Cemetery in Penrith, Cumberland. Percy Topless, the Monocled Mutineer, murderer rapist and thug, but also a soldier of the Great War is buried here. The grave used to be unmarked and likely still is.
There is another cemetery in England that holds a dark secret. This is the much visited Cannock Chase. Every year poppies are placed on the graves of German Soldiers buried there. All equal in death perhaps, in life no, some were in the SS, a criminal organisation. No one will tell you who they are though.
Closing with a mainly Great War Cemetery in France. This is an American Cemetery with a dark rarely visited secret. It is Oise-Asine US Cemetery. neatly laid out a beautiful cemetery, with it’s five plots. Count them as you go in, One, two, three, four, see they are all there. Plot A, B, C, and D. No Plot E. but it is there, there are five plots at Oise-Arsine Cemetery. People just do not see Plot E. The cemetery was established for Americans who died in the surrounding area in WW1. At the time of its completion there was no plot E.
Plot E was established after WWII. It contains the graves of American servicemen executed for murder and rape after the end of that war. They just rather not tell you about it. To visit plot E visitors have to ask because it is hidden away. So if you are there go into the supervisor’s office and ask if you can visit Plot E. Oise-Arsine’s hidden dark secret.is the same as Beacon Edge, and Crannock Chase, not all soldiers were heroes.