musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Visiting Brookwood

When I was in London I discovered Brookwood, or should I say, I read about it in my trusty London cemetery guide. For some odd reason I was under the impression that it was East of London, so never really made any concerted attempt to find the place. Technically though, this could be where my maternal great grandparents are buried and as a result I am not quite done with the place yet. 
 
However, on my return from South Africa, the train from Woking went past Brookwood Station! and suddenly I had a reason to go there. The easiest way is to catch the train to Basingstoke and from there a local to Brookwood. Or do it all from Woking. The weather has been reasonably good so I decided that this was my next destination for the 14th of June.
 
I hit the trains early and the first snag was the flooded subway at Brookwood Station. The water was over the knees and frankly for a country that prides itself on being ‘ealf ‘n safety” crazy this situation was a joke. Not only were there no warning signs, but the water just kept on coming. Ugh. My destination was through that water, so I had to “roll up me troosers and head across t’ bay”.
 
  
The station opens up right into the Cemetery. There is no real transition between station and cem. You end up slap bang in the middle of it.  Actually you come out very close to the extensive military cemetery, and that was where my exploration started.
 
Brookwood Military Cemetery
 
This extensive cemetery has 5072 identified casualties buried in it. It is a vast space, with rows of regular white headstones. It is the biggest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery I have ever seen . 
 
I will be honest, I did not really know where to start. I had no real specific graves to photograph, so was really free to do my own thing. I was drawn to a number of separate plots, all dedicated to various nationalities servicemen/women. It was quite a sobering experience to see this mix of nations that all came together with common purpose. I believe that photography in the cemetery is not allowed without a permit, but hopefully this is not true in military cemetery.
 
The map of Brookwood Military Cem I got from a booklet that I found at the one office. As you can see there are many aspects to this cemetery, and I know I never got to see them all.
  
The Monument to the Missing is particularly poignant, commemorating 3438 men and women of the Commonwealth land forces. who died during the Second World War. 
 
I am sorry I never spent more time here, but the weather was varying between grim and gray and I did not know how much time I really had. Of special interest are members of the Special Operations Executive who are mentioned on this memorial, as well as men who perished in the ill fated Dieppe and Norwegian campaigns.
 
The cemetery is also home to the Brookwood American Cemetery, with its beautiful chapel and well manicured lawns. It too is an awe inspiring place, with 468 Military Burials, and an additional 563 missing listed in the chapel walls. Sadly the chapel was closed so I was not able to get any pics of the interior.
  
This is the first American Military Cemetery that I have seen, and it is a beautiful Place of Remembrance.
 
Returning to the CWGC plot I finally found my countrymen who lost their lives in the Great War. They have a small corner of their own, and I photographed the whole plot. There are 148 South Africans from WW1 buried in this small corner of foreign fields.
  
This is just one of those headstones, and I felt a certain pride in them, Springboks from far away who now rest in this small part of England. 
  
Time was catching me, and my extended visit to the Military Cemetery was eating into it. Believe it or not, I actually had some sort of time table based on available trains to and from Brookwood. It was time to find the rest of the cem, but that meant I had to go through yet another vast military burial area. Brookwood has two Crosses of Sacrifice and two Stones of Remembrance, and the former is not the smaller version that I see in some of the cems.
 
The big problem facing me now was, How do I get out of here and into the cemetery?
 
I wasted quite a bit of time trying to work out when the cemetery was. Unfortunately the lack of a decent map really was a problem (note to self: get map!!) and eventually, I was considering that just maybe I was not getting to where I should be, fortunately I bumped into a fellow explorer who set me on the right path and shortly afterwards I hit Brookwood Cemetery proper. 
 
The Cemetery was opened in 1854 by a private company as a place to bury the ever increasing population of London who were in need of a burial place. It is the largest cemetery in the UK, and one of the largest in Europe. Although I suspect the military cemetery would cut into its total acreage of 500 acres. It is now in private hands, having suffered the same fate as the Victorian Garden Cemeteries that are so much a part of the London Cemetery “scene”. 
 
At one point is had two dedicated railway stations that were linked into Waterloo Station (now that would have been very useful). although only one station survives. 
 
If anything it looks a lot like the smaller borough cems I saw in Camberwell or Lewisham, there are a number of mausoleums, and the ever present angels, but the cem isn’t that strange conglomeration of graves like I saw in Highgate East or Kensall Green. There is almost an uncompleted look about it. I took a random direction and walked as close to the edge of the cem as I could get. There was no real way to know where I was, the lack of a suitable map was a problem, and I know that next time I am going to be better prepared. 
 
I do know one thing though, even if I knew my Morris relatives were buried here, there is almost no chance of actually finding them without a guide or exact co-ordinates.
 
I really just headed off randomly, because there was no real specific purpose in my being here. Ideally I wanted to head down to where the office was, or even the chapels, but I was no longer in the mood and decided to start heading in the direction of the station. All around me were these huge trees and ironically some had huge signs “no dogs allowed in the cemetery”. I could just picture a dog looking wistfully at some of those trees and thinking “I would love to use that tree as a toilet!”
 
The one thing I did get from the cemetery was a sense of space, although given the size of it, I wonder how full it was. I have read that there are in excess of 250 000 buried here, which may be less than we have at Avalon Cemetery in Johannesburg. (Avalon is 430 Acres and has over 300 000 people buried in it). As usual you never really consider that where there is no headstone there may be a grave, its a common misconception, and one which sometimes needs a bit of thinking about to gain the correct perspective.
 
And then I was off to the station. I must return here another day, there is much to find, but I want to put in an enquiry to see whether I have family in the cemetery. It will be very interesting if I do. 
 

But that’s another trip for another day. Brookwood was in the bag.

I returned to Brookwood in December 2014 and it was an interesting visit that gave me somewhat of a better picture of the cemetery. I also got to investigate the railway a bit better, and seem to have it more settled in my mind now.

 
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