Well satisfied, I headed “up the road” to St Matthews. Along my way I encountered Prince’s Park, and if you blink you may just miss it.
There are 9 CWGC graves in the cemetery, and the gate is locked; the key supposedly available at the vicarage. However, nobody at the vicarage knew anything about the key, and after asking around I decided that there was no way I was going to get into the cemetery unless it was over the top. Fortunately the wall is not very high and after much huffing and puffing I was soon inside.
The CWGC graves are easy to find because they are the only ones that are still standing. There are numerous markers stacked around the base of trees, and in some spots markers are laying flat in the ground. The only markings on the markers are numbers, and nothing else. There were supposed to be initials too, but I never saw any on the markers I looked at.
It is at this point where I really feel sad, because each of those numbers was a human being, a man, a woman or a child. The sad truth is the St Matthews was an “Asylum”, and those numbers probably refer to a date of death, or possibly a file number? The Burntwood Family History Group says that the numbers are dates, and probably a grave number or row. According to the website there are 1,560 men and 1,543 women buried in this small space. It also appears as if there are records available, so these people are not unknown, although their lives were probably often short and tragic. The hospital served the military in World War Two but was closed in 1995, and the only real remnants are part of the administration block and the chapel.
The administration block was really magnificent, and is now used as flats as the grounds of the hospital are now a housing estate. The chapel is in use by a nursery school, and it is next to the new Burntwood Cemetery.
I do not know whether there was a graveyard attached to the former chapel, if there was it is now a parking lot, playground and a modern cemetery.
It was time for me to head off home, my task complete. I had my graves. I had spoken to a local at the social club who did tell me a lot about the hospital and showed me images from its past. But I still felt saddened by that empty field of graves that I had been in earlier. It was covered in yellow flowers now, and I thought that they were a fine tribute to those unfortunates who are buried beneath them. May they have found the peace that they deserved. I may come back to this post about St Matthews as I do some reading, it does seem like a fascinating place to read about, and I am sure somewhere I will find the war stories associated with it.
My next port of call was the Burntwood War Memorial which was not too far away. It is a modern memorial, and I expect not too many people are even aware of it.
I only found out about it because I had spoken to a local, and he advised me that I should visit the Cannock Chase War Cemetery too, and that happened shortly after I got home, and it shall appear in this blog shortly.
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