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Soldiers Corner at Arnos Vale Cemetery is the largest WW1 grave in the South West; a listed memorial sitting impressively above the graves which are the last resting place of 238 men from WW1. On the 8th December 2018, we were proud to hold a rededication ceremony at the memorial after extensive restoration of the graves markers (ledger stones) and memorial by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).
The men in the graves were brought to Bristol to be treated in one of many hospitals that were set up during WW1. They were brought from the battlefields, training camps, ships and barracks for treatment for injuries and disease. Although the Bristol hospitals were excellent for the time, many of the men could not be treated as medical science had not advanced enough. They died of a variety of things including influenza, gas inhalation, blood poisoning, cancer, meningitis and trench foot. The most unusual hospital was run by Robert Bush, who had spent a number of years in Australia. He set up a hospital specifically for Anzacs (Australian and New Zealander service men) at his home in Stoke Bishop. Interestingly, Bush is buried here at Arnos Vale by the Anglican Chapel in the same cemetery as many of those he cared for in his house.
An international burial ground
Soldiers Corner is not just the resting place of men from the UK. It is also the burial site of 3 South Africans, 20 Australians, 17 Canadians, 1 Newfoundlander (which was a separate country during WW1) as well as the 197 men from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Even if they did not die of wounds in battle, the men remembered at the memorial were usually buried with full honours as they had all risked their lives. Although there are 238 men in the plot, there are not the same number of ledger stones. This is because many of the British men are buried in group plots, including the South Africans which was a colony of Britain at the time. The Australians and Canadians were buried in individual graves on the insistence of their governments.
Marking the graves
During World War One, when burial began at Soldiers Corner, the burial area was just marked by a retaining wall, roughly where the memorial now stands. To show the burial places of the servicemen, ledger stones were added once the soil had settled. The ledger stones are unique to Arnos Vale and when the ledger stones were restored in 2018, Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust felt it was important to retain some of the original stones that were laid between 1914 and 1919. However, it was not possible to retain them all as many of the ledger stones ended up in poor condition due to being removed from the graves and dumped in the landscape. The Trust returned many to the memorial in 2016 and 2017 but a number ended up in storage in the crypt due to their poor condition. Although the CWGC have maintained the memorial for a number of years, the stones were never the commission’s responsibility.
However, with the 100th anniversary of WW1, the CWGC decided to work with AVCT to restore or replace the gravestones, which was something the Trust could never undertake alone. Amazingly, the CWGC were able to sample the stones and find the quarry the stone was sourced from 100 years ago. The replacement Portland stone markers were hand carved and etched to match the original markers that remain. The comparison between old and new ledger stones demonstrates the passing of 100 years and really shows the historic nature of the memorial.
There have been acts of remembrance at the grave site since the installation of the memorial.
This wonderful newspaper clipping shows a memorial service in 1925, with Robert Bush placing a wreath on the Cross of Remembrance, which is no longer there.
Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust will continue to remember the sacrifice of all those who risked their lives in action. The most recent ceremony was attended by representatives from UK Canada, Australia, South Africa Armed Forces (2nd left to right), plus Bristol’s own Lord Lieutenant, Peaches Golding (not pictured). The ceremony was also attended by descendants of a number of servicemen in the graves, which made the sacrifice and historical link very real and poignant.
As part of this project, there is now an exhibition crypt under the Anglican Chapel produced by the CWGC which is a well worth visiting. It explains the work of the Commission and its continuing mission to commemorate the fallen. It is open 10-4 7 days a week and will be available to view until the end of February.
To find out more about the Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust, get in touch by calling us on 0117 971 9117 or you can email us.