Headstones on Military Cemeteries
There are thousands of military cemeteries: on battlefields all over the world; and near the sites of field hospitals, prisoner-of-war camps, or barracks on the homefront. The ultimate proof of cultural encounter in a time of global conflict is unfortunately all too often a headstone. Browsing French and British military cemeteries for non-European relics is often rewarding. The information contained on a headstone and within the cemetery registers are invaluable - in some cases even unique - sources that enhance our knowledge about who was where at what precise moment.
Field cemeteries created during the war were either consolidated or concentrated after the war. They reflect not only a multicultural presence within the belligerent armies of the First World War, but also the subordinated position of colonial troops, for example in those cases where the dead were segregated on the basis of skin colour (see Longuenesse Souvenir Cemetery, Saint-Omer). Headstones and cemetery registers might give us details about the religious or ethnocultural background of an individual and provide a concrete record of an individual's presence in a particular spot. In rare cases, epitaphs convey a message. The Chinese cemeteries of Noyelles-sur-Mer and St-Etienne au Mont were even, at least, in part created by the Chinese themselves: they carved the headstones and the powerful inscriptions on the entrance gate and central memorial. In addition to sites such as Zehrensdorf Military Cemetery (near the former POW camp in Zossen-Wünsdorf) or Seaford, Shorncliffe, and Brookwood military cemeteries in the United Kingdom, the most remarkable cemeteries in this respect are to be found in France and Belgium. The Cimetière nationale français in Machelen-aan-de-Leie, Lijssenthoek Cemetery (Poperinge), Les Baraques Cemetery (Sangatte), and the Necropole Nationale Notre Dame de Lorette (Ablain-Saint-Nazaire) are just some of a long list of sites of interest. We should view Memorials to the Missing, such as the Menin Gate in Ypres or the Neuve-Chapelle (Indian) Memorial, in the same regards. Both cemeteries and memorials also function as focal points for commemorations by community groups and thus act as a site for cultural encounter today.