In the Somme, there are 410 Commonwealth Cemeteries, 22 French Military Cemeteries and 14 German Cemeteries. There are several reasons why there are more Commonwealth Cemeteries than French or German, one reason is that there was no repatriation of British war dead after 1915, and another is that after the war the Imperial War Graves Commission decided to maintain many of the smaller military cemeteries that had been created during the fighting. It was also preferred to give every man an individual burial whereas during the post-war battlefield clearances the French buried most of their unidentified dead in mass graves.
The French Military Cemeteries
Ministry of Defence staff are responsible for maintaining the French cemeteries, which are striking in their uniformity and plain style. The lay-out usually includes “ossuaries” (mass graves) and a flag pole flying the French flag. The “Sépultures de Guerre” website allows you to research and locate the place of burial of men from the French army who died during the First World War and other conflicts. The Memoire des Hommes website will give you extra information about the soldiers who “died for France”.
www.sepulturesdeguerre.sga.defense.gouv.fr and www.memoiredeshommes.sga.defense.gouv.fr
The German Cemeteries
The Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge is a humanitarian organisation set up in 1919 to identify the graves of German soldiers in other countries and to preserve and maintain them. The largest of the German cemeteries in the Somme is at Vermandovillers (more than 22,000 remains are buried there). www.volksbund.de
The British and Commonwealth Cemeteries
Established by Royal Charter in 1917, the then Imperial War Graves Commission was created to carry out the essential work of maintaining the graves of members of empire armies who died during the two World Wars and other wars throughout the British Empire, later the Commonwealth. Its other fundamental task is to maintain the many memorials and monuments. Most cemeteries have a Cross of Sacrifice with a sword set onto it, and the Stone of Remembrance bearing a carved quotation from Ecclesiasticus, “Their name liveth for evermore”. Almost every cemetery has a shelter area for visitors. The overall result is a very striking architectural feature.
The prime object of the United States War Graves Service, set up by Federal decision in 1923, is to maintain the cemeteries containing the graves and memorials of the 218,000 men and women who died during various conflicts (the Mexican War, the First and Second World War, Korea, Vietnam). www.abmc.gov