There’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.
I have great admiration for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the work they do around the world preserving the graves of those who have lost their lives in war. The cemeteries are immaculately maintained and so colourful. The Bayeux War Cemetery in Bayeux, Normandy is no exception.
Across from the Bayeux Memorial lie the remains of more than 4,000 military who died during and in the aftermath of the D-Day landings. Most are from the Commonwealth with some 300 or so unidentified. There are also a few hundred German graves.
The memorial, the work of P.D. Hepworth*, remembers 1,808 heroes who died in Normandy and have no known grave, something similar to the Wall of the Missing in the American Cemetery near Omaha Beach. Among them are the names of 189 sailors and members 43rd Divisional Reconnaissance Regiment who went down with the MV Derrycunihy on 25 July 1944. They were waiting to disembark off Sword Beach when the ship’s engines set off a German mine. So close and yet so far.
Hepworth was a veteran of WWI, returning to architecture after the war. In WWII, he was one of the Imperial War Graves Commission architects (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) responsible for several war memorials and cemeteries for the British war dead.
The Latin epitaph along the frieze of the memorial is reference to William the Conqueror and the Invasion of England in 1066: NOS A GULIELMO VICTI VICTORIS PATRIAM LIBERAVIMUS. The translation reads: “We, once conquered by William, have now set free the Conqueror’s native land.”
Hepworth had a sense of humour.
Bayeux War Cemetery is the largest of the 18 Commonwealth cemeteries in Normandy, which together, mark the final resting places of the more than 22,000 who lost their lives during the liberation. It’s beautiful.
Because it is home to more than 40 dead, it has a Cross of Sacrifice. Designed in 1918 by Sir Reginald Blomfield, who also did the Menin Gate at Ypres, it has been reproduced in various sizes but always with the same look. It has a fascinating story.
Blomfield said of his design:
What I wanted to do in designing this Cross was to make it as abstract and impersonal as I could, to free it from any association of any particular style, and, above all, to keep clear of any sentimentalism of the Gothic. This was a man’s war far too terrible for any fripperies, and I hoped to get within range of the infinite in this symbol…
Walking up and down the rows of headstones, each carved with the pertinent details of those interred, I noticed that some families had added more details or visited and left a flag.
As I said, I have the utmost respect for the CWGC and all that they do. These cemeteries are evidence of a history we cannot afford to forget.