Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bedford House Cemetery, Belgium

We visited many World War I cemeteries in France and Belgium. One of the most impressive “small” cemeteries was the one we found as were out driving around in Belgium visiting small villages. It was located in peaceful farmland between Ypres (Ieper) and Armentieres in an area known as the Ypres Salient; a salient is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory.

By November 1918 the Ypres Salient was a blasted, desolate wilderness. In four years of concentrated warfare hundreds of thousands of soldiers had fought doggedly over this corner of the Western Front. Thousands had died in four major battles. Daily life in the Sailent’s hostile environment claimed the lives of thousands more. By the time the fighting stopped, more than half a million were dead.
Bedford House, sometimes known as Woodcote House, were the names given by the Army to the Chateau Rosendal, a country mansion set in wooded parkland with moats.

Although it never fell into German hands, the house and the trees were gradually destroyed by shell fire. It was used by field ambulances and as the headquarters of brigades and other fighting units. In time, the property became largely covered by small cemeteries; five enclosures existed at the date of the after the Armistice it was enlarged when 3,324 graves were brought in from other burial grounds and from the battlefields of the Ypres Salient.

Almost two-thirds of the graves are unidentified. Enclosure No. 6 was made in the 1930s from the graves that were continuing to be found on the battlefield of the Ypres Salient. This enclosure also contains Second World War burials, all of them soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force, who died in the defense of the Ypres-Comines canal and railway at the end of May 1940. In all, 5,139 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War are buried or commemorated in the enclosures of Bedford House Cemetery.

We never visited a cemetery that was not well maintained. The grass was always cut and the edges around the stones were well trimmed. All the graves had flowering plants around the tombstones. Sylvia read that flowers that grew in the countries the soldiers were from were planted around the markers so when family members came to visit they would find a little reminder of home. They also planted them so that the deceased soldiers would lie among familiar flowers.

We wandered over the whole cemetery reading tombstones and looking at the flowers and birds. In the center of the site was where the chateau had been located. All that was left was a set of steps leading up to a mound where the house had stood. Off to one side was a wooden door, which lead into a basement that was used as a field station for treating wounded soldiers.

This reads "A Soldier of the Great War Known Only to God".

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