St Symphorien Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery
The St Symphorien military cemetery is a First World War burial ground 2 kilometres east of Mons in the Belgian province of Hainaut. It was created and maintained by the German Army, and it contains the graves of 229 Commonwealth servicemen and 284 German soldiers. The cemetery is overlooked by a "granite obelisk some seven metres high", commemorating the dead from both sides in the Battle of Mons (August 1914) as well as a Commonwealth Cross of Sacrifice. There is an additional German monument to the dead of the 4th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment from the same battle. John Parr and George Lawrence Price are buried here, traditionally believed to be the first and last Commonwealth soldiers killed in action during the First World War. St Symphorien also contains the grave of the first Iron Cross recipient of World War I.
The character of the cemetery differs from the "standard" British and German formats.
Most of the British and German dead from the Battle of Mons were buried in civilian cemeteries in Mons and surrounding villages. Subsequently, the German Army decided to exhume and re-inter the dead in a single location. A site was selected just south-east of Mons but its owner, Jean Houzeau de Lehaie, refused to sell the land to the Germans but permitted its use as a burial ground on the condition that British and German dead were buried and commemorated with equal dignity. This was agreed to by the German authorities and the re-interment commenced in November 1915; it was finally inaugurated on 6 September 1917 with a ceremony attended by prominent German figures, including Rupprecht, Crown Prince of Bavaria and Albrecht, Duke of Württemberg.
Jean Houzeau de Lehaie’s wishes were respected by the German authorities; they raised three monuments to the British dead in the cemetery, including a seven metre high grey granite obelisk dedicated to the fallen of both sides. At the end of the war in November 1918, it passed into the care of the Imperial War Graves Commission (now Commonwealth War Graves Commission). St. Symphorien now contains the graves of 334 Commonwealth and 280 German servicemen of the First World War.
On 4 August 2014, a ceremony was held at the cemetery to mark the 100th anniversary of the British and Belgian declaration of war following the German invasion of Belgium. It was attended by many important dignatories including: TM The King and Queen of The Belgians, TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry (representing Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and Head of the Commonwealth), the President of Germany, the President of the Republic of Ireland, and the Prime Ministers of Belgium and the United Kingdom.
Notes and sources
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission website: St Symphorien
- "The Maple Leaf", 19 September 2007.
- Madigan, Edward. "St. Symphorien Military Cemetery, the Battle of Mons and British Centenary Commemoration". Oxford University. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission St Symphorien Retrieved: 29 October 2008.
- The Maple Leaf "Treasure trove for military history buffs in Belgium" Vol. 10, 19 September 2007. Retrieved: 26 February 2010.
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