Saturday, May 16, 2009

Madras War Cemetry

Madras War Cemetry

Hi I recently shifted to Mogappair west extension on the Vanagaram – Ambathur road. My office is in Ekkattuthangal. I was trying different routes to see which is the optimal route both in terms of time, distance, traffic, signals and what not? While on this exercise I used to cross a strange place daily near St. Thomas Mount with greeneries and grave yards. Finally I decided to see this place and parked my vehicle and went near to see the place. The entrance displayed “Madras War Cemetery” and inside there are thousands of grave yards each carrying a name to it. Later when I searched in the Google I found that this cemetery was built in 1952 to pay tribute to valiant men and women who died in the Second World War.

A tribute to the valiant men and women who laid down their lives in the Second World War, the Madras War Cemetery was set up in 1952 by the Imperial War Graves Commission, which is now known as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). The Cemetery is maintained by the CWGC in partnership with the Indian Government.

The Stone of Remembrance greets the visitor to the Madras War Cemetery with the words from the Book of Ecclesiasticus 'Their Name Liveth For Evermore'. Then there is the Cross of Sacrifice, which is set up on an octagonal base bearing a bronze sword upon its shaft. These two monuments are common to all large CWGC cemeteries.

The Madras War Cemetery honours 855 men and women of the Commonwealth forces and one Polish airman who died during the war of 1939 - 1945. It has been a kind of second burial for these armed forces personnel, who died in the line of duty at different places while serving in various units during the war. Most of the graves were brought together from civil and cantonment cemeteries in the South and East of India. There is also a memorial commemorating a merchant seaman who was buried elsewhere. The Cemetery also has three non-world war graves.

"There is also a Memorial to soldiers who died in the First world war between, 1914 - 1918. It is known as the Madras Memorial. The Madras Memorial has all the 1,039 men who died in the First World War inscribed on it. This was done, because the permanent maintenance of the graves of these men in various civil and cantonment cemeteries was not assured", says N Rajaram who is the caretaker of both the Madras War Cemetry and St. Mary's Cemetery. Of the 857 war graves in the Madras War Cemetery, 659 served for the forces of United Kingdom, 110 served for the forces of West Africa, 49 for the forces of undivided India (India before partition), 17 for the forces of Canada, 14 for the forces of Australia, 5 served for the forces of New Zealand, one for Burma, one for Malaya and one for Poland. The Madras Memorial honours 936 men from the forces of United Kingdom and 103 from undivided India.

The St. Mary's Cemetery, which belongs to St. Mary's Church Fort, contains the Commonwealth burials of both World Wars. There is one Commonwealth War Grave in the adjoining St. Patrick's Cemetery and also one non-world war burial. Of the First World War casualties buried here, 17 served for the forces of United Kingdom while 6 were from undivided India. Of the Second World War casualties in this cemetery 75 are from United Kingdom, 19 from India, 3 from West Africa, 1 from East Africa, 1 from Southern Rhodesia and 1 from Burma.

N Rajaram who is caretaker of both Cemeteries says, "It costs approximately around Rs 50,000 every month to maintain the cemetery. November 11th, Armistice Day, which signifies the end of the Second World War is celebrated every year. Wreaths are laid at three places - the Stone of Remembrance, Cross of Sacrifice and at the First World War Memorial. The bugle is sounded after the wreaths are laid, then the Guard of Honour reverse arms, after which the bugler sounds 'Just Rest'. At the end of the bugle, 2 minutes of silence is observed. Then the bugler sounds 'Rouse'. This is the way in which the graves are honoured. There is also a small prayer service. Every year a prominent personality is invited to grace the occasion." Prominent visitors include the Prince of Kent and Princess Anne.

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