War Graves Project – Why do we do this?

Military Section, Brandwood End Cemetery
Military Section, Brandwood End Cemetery, photo courtesy of Barrie Simpson

We are often asked why we spend time walking the rows of graves in the Cemetery.  One of our first projects was to place a Poppy Cross, each November, on all the war graves within the cemetery to mark Remembrance Day.  A simple task, as we knew the names of the service personel from the two World Wars by simply looking at the list held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and then looking for their distinctive headstones within the cemetery.

However, what we found was that many servicemen who had died on active service abroad, although they were buried abroad, near to where they fell in battle, and remembered by memorials provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in one of their well cared for cemteries, the family here in Birmingham often also placed their loved one’s name on the family memorial.

This was so that they could too visit and honour the fallen.

This was a time when international travel was financially impossible for many Brummies.  Many relatives have never had the opportunity to visit the any of the War Cemeteries which lie in many many countries around the World.

So what we found, and continue to find, are more and more graves where the memory of the fallen of both World Wars is honoured on the family’s grave stone.

Many families who came to these graves no longer attend the cemetery – perhaps the family has moved away, or the generation that cared for the grave has passed away.

In these cases The Friends will continue, at least once a year, to remember these servicemen and women on behalf of the local community.

And we do not forget those in civilian life – World War II was fought at home and abroad and we members of the National Fire Service; Fire Watchers and Air Raid Wardens together with victims of the Blitz Raids on Birmingham, all buried here.

They too are remembered by a simple Poppy Cross.

So we do this firstly to honour the fallen, but it is more than this, as each grave tells a story about ordinary Brummies – people just like you and who came from the local districts served by the cemetery.

This is the story of just one Brummie family which we obtained from a single headstone – nobody famous; just a family from Birmingham and probably just like your own.

During August 1918, Ester, and we will leave the family surname out of this story out of respect, receives a telegram to say that her husband Samuel, 49 years of age, had been killed in action on 21st August 1918, in France.

Just a few days later, Ester receives another telegram to say that on 27 August 1918, her eldest son, also called Samuel, 25 years of age, had been killed in action in France.

So the First World War left a lasting mark on this family but the story extends in to the Second World War.

On the night of 19th November 1940, the Luftwaffe carried out an Air Raid on Birmingham, during which the family home, not too far from the cemetery, was hit by a bomb killing Ester’s two remaining sons, James, aged 33 years, and Albert, aged 50 years.

Ester survived and died in 1950, aged 78 years, and it is obvious from the grave that this was her place of pilgrimage.  Now that she has passed on no one attends this family memorial as often as she clearly did.

Just one story from one grave.

This is not the only story arising from our War Graves Project – we have memorials of 16 year olds who lied about their age, name and address to join the Armed Forces; Air Raid Wardens, Home Guard, Search Light Teams and Fire Fighters who died in the line of duty during the Blitz; we have sailors who died at sea; many air crew, including two brothers who became pilots and who died fighting the air war; and, sadly even children of serving soldiers who were victims of the Blitz while their father was away fighting in the war.

We also have graves of soldiers from Australia; Canada and Poland – and we feel that we have a responsibility to care for the graves of those buried far from their homes.

Every grave tells a story of an ordinary and brave Brummie, whether a Soldier, Sailor or Airman, British or Commonwealth, or one of our former Allies – they all deserve to be remembered. 

Certainly, we will do all we can to remember them.

Cross of Sacrifice, Brandwood End Cemetery
Cross of Sacrifice, photo courtesy of Barrie Simpson

In the week leading up to Remembrance Sunday we will again be placing the Poppy Crosses around the cemetery, and the Cross of Sacrifice in the main drive; there will also be a short Wreath laying ceremony at the Cross of Sacrifice on Remembrance Sunday, when wreaths will be laid by the City Council, the Royal British legion and the Friends.

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