Since I started photographing war graves I have visited a lot of cemeteries, and each one is very different. The CWGC Military Cemetery pattern is easy to see in each dedicated military cemetery, there are many familiar features that you will find wherever you go. I have never had the opportunity to visit an Axis cemetery though, so this one was my first, and as such was very special.
The cemetery is located at Cannock Chase, about 400 metres from the CWGC cemetery. If you did not read the information board at the CWGC cemetery you probably would not even know this one exists.
We arrived towards late afternoon, and by the time we got there the cemetery was ready to close, but I was able to get some images, and they were also variable because of the ever changing light conditions.
The cemetery was established in 1995 under the terms of an agreement between the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany.
Most who died here died as POW’s, or were German airmen or sailors who died in service. There are 2143 graves from the first World War. and 2798 from the second. A sunken walkway separates the casualties from the two wars, and effectively a large wooden crucifix is roughly in the centre of the cemetery.
The administration building has two terraces; on the east terrace there is a memorial to the crews of four Zeppelins (the crews of SL11 (03/09/1916), L32 (24/09/1916), L31 (02/10/1916) and L48 (17/06/1917) .) that were shot down over England during the first World War.
The statue is a powerful piece, but I found it a very dark image, this was not the warrior that died with a gun in hand, but rather one who died quietly and who was forgotten as the battle raged past him.
I had very little time to do much on this afternoon, and I really just headed out and took as many images as I could without really being able to contemplate anything or to get a feel for what I was seeing.
And then we had to go, with the intention of returning the next morning.
On the next day it was gray and wet, and we almost changed our minds about returning, but decided seeing as we were going in that direction we would drop in anyway. The whole atmosphere was very different on this day, instead of the bright light from the afternoon before it was suddenly muted and gray. A colour much more appropriate for battlefields and wars.
The headstones are of Belgian Granite with white lettering. Generally there are 2 names per side, and all are of a uniform size. The only real information is a name, rank and date of birth and death where these were known.
The example above has an Unknown Soldier buried in it as well as an Obergefreiter (Senior Lance Corporal). The German rank structure was a bit confusing, and there is a handy Wikipedia page on it that is worth consulting.
The cemetery contains 10 Knights Cross holders (Johann Dreher, Hermann Kroll, Kurt Geisler, Ernst Busch, Alois Stoeckl, Albert von Schwern, Walter Rubensdoerffer, Martin Lutz, Hans Hahn and Adalbert Karbe), and naturally I was hoping to see some of them. The cemetery is also where a number of sailors are buried, and I did see graves of members of the crew of the U33, their commander included.
There is no doubt that this space was very different to the CWGC cemeteries. And because this day was cold and grey and the light levels were low the cemetery was a sad and poignant place. Inside my mind I kept on hearing the words from a traditional lament from the German Armed Forces: Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden (“I had a comrade”), (available to hear on Youtube). It was an odd feeling though, almost as if there was a lot of sadness and loss associated with this quiet place.
There is also a plaque to commemorate Ukranian Soldiers who fought on the German side
Then it was time to head to our next destination; RAF Cosford, where many of the aircraft that had fought against this foe were on display to those who came to see them, and of course there were also aircraft that some of these men may have flown. Many of those buried here are aircrew from the bomber raids.
I believe that a ceremony of Remembrance is regularly held, although it does not draw as many as a CWGC service does. But I know people come here because every here and there was a bouquet, or a poppy, a sign that while the dead lay in foreign fields they are always close to the heart of those who mourn their loss.
© DRW 2015 – 2017. Created 30/03/2015