Graves of ‘Pals’, and mon­u­ments to the miss­ing

Kent Messenger Maidstone - - YOURLOCAL -

A pil­grim­age to the ceme­ter­ies main­tained by the Com­mon­Wealth War Graves Com­mis­sion on the Western France is still a pow­er­ful emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence for many.

Es­pe­cially at the Somme where 20,000 young men died on a sin­gle day, July 1, 1916, many from the Pals bat­tal­ions: one can see the graves of row af­ter row of young men who of­ten grew up to­gether, en­listed to­gether, fought to­gether and fi­nally died to­gether.

What about the miss­ing? Those whose bod­ies were de­stroyed by the heavy guns, or sunk in the gluti­nous mud of the shell-pocked bat­tle­fields, or buried in col­lapsed trenches or un­der­ground bunkers?

Memo­ri­als, again main­tained by the com­mis­sion, abound in the bat­tle­field ar­eas. The best known is the Menin Gate in Ypres.

This mas­sive ed­i­fice sits astride the road from Menin as it en­ters the town. It con­tains the names of 55,000 sol­diers miss­ing in the Ypres Salient be­tween Au­gust 1914 and Au­gust 1917. Names of those from Bri­tain and Ire­land, from Aus­tralia, South Africa; names of In­dian se­poys, of Pathan tribes­men and six sol­diers from the West Indies.

The names of the miss­ing from the Ypres Salient from Au­gust 1917 un­til to the end of the war are con­tained on plaques at the back of the nearby Tyne Cot ceme­tery, the largest Bri­tish mil­i­tary ceme­tery in the world, with al­most 12,000 graves. There are a fur­ther 35,000 names of the miss­ing here.

And as for the Somme, there is the Thiep­val Me­mo­rial to more than 73,000 miss­ing sol­diers who died in this re­gion’s mighty bat­tles of 1916 and 1918. This one is sim­ply over­pow­er­ing, ris­ing some­what in­con­gru­ously hun­dreds of feet above this lovely coun­try­side.

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