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Lest We Forget PDF Printable Version E-mail


Lest We Forget

Barry and Margaret Williamson
Igoumenitsa, Northern Greece
April 2010

For more images, click: British and American war cemeteries in Tunisia 

For images from Italy, click: CWGC cemeteries in Anzio and MonteCassino  

Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Cemeteries in Tunisia and Italy  

Recent travels in Sicily, Malta, Tunisia and Italy have put the internet into the background, but we are now trying to catch up here in the port of IgouCassino_46.JPGmenitsa in northern Greece. Before the end of the week, we plan to travel on into nearby Albania and then continue a journey back to the UK via Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, etc.

Our journey through Tunisia and ICassino_45.JPGtaly took us past many monuments to great civilisations: Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine, Arabic, Ottoman; but none of them affected us as deeply as the monuments erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) to the young men who gave their lives in foreign fields, fighting the Germans and Italians in the course of the Second World War.

We recorded a small sample of inscriptions from headstones chosen because, unusually, they contain no religious references. They speak from the hearts of grieving relatives, facing with love and courage the finality of death. These epitaphs deal directly with death and irrecoverable loss, free of euphemism and false belief.

The mOued_Zarga_(28).JPGajority of the inscriptions invoke a God or the historical figure of Jesus Christ (or, rarely, his mother Mary). The writers found comfort in the notion that a loved one (killed in the flower of his young manhood) was now safe in the hands of a higher being. This assumption of life after death also led to the hope of meeting again in a better place. In this way, the reality of the mass slaughter of a nation's most promising youth could be made more bearable.

The current loss of this faith among the majority of British people has made it almost unbearable to countenance the death of a young person fighting in a foreign country on behalf of the British state. No comforting arms wait in heaven for the mangled body; Bordj_El_Amri_(12).JPGno reunion will take place in some unknowable future.

In one of the two CWGC cemeteries in Anzio, scene of a bloody and protracted beach landing on the west coast of Italy south of Rome in January 1944, (designed to break the impasse at Monte Cassino), we met a young American who had served as a volunteer in Iraq. He pointed out that this single CWGC cemetery held many more British dead than the whoUS_Cemetery_(22).JPGle of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns so far. This is also true for the large American cemetery which stands nearby in Anzio. 

But today deaths are counted singly and the comfort given by ancient beliefs has largely evaporated. It now takes more courage and more commitment on the part of the young people serving overseas, and of the people in Britain, to face the continuing necessity of war to eradicate evil and replace it with the freedom we take as our right.

Some Inscriptions: Here are a few superstition-free inscriptions, written by relatives, on Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones of British soldiers killed in action during World War Two. We took these inscriptions from five cemeteries in Tunisia (on the line of advance of the First Army from Algeria towards Tunis) and two cemeteries in Italy (from the landings on the coast at Anzio, near Rome, and from the prolonged siege of Monte Cassino).


Not in his native land but beneath foreign skies, far from those who love him, in a hero's grave he lies.

He gave the greatest gift of all, his unfinished life.

In the glad morning of his day, his life he freely gave.

Not once or twice in our rough island story, the path of duty was the way to glory.

He saw no shadows lengthen nor twilight fall. A voice whispered 'come' and he answered the call.

All he had hoped for, all he had, he gave.

For honour, liberty and truth, he sacrificed his glorious youth.

Lost in the tides of war.

My duty, Mam and Dad, I did. Here I'll rest in peace.

O for the touch of a vanished hand and the sound of a voice that is still.

And how can man die better, than facing fearful odds?

Horses he loved and laughter and the sun, a song, wide spaces and the open air.

Make the world better, take away the pain, then my Billie did not die in vain.

O valiant heart, who to your glory came, through dust of conflict and battle flame.

In a soldier's grave far away lies the one I loved so dear. A hero that won't come home at the last all clear.

Our future plans all ended in a dream.

His sun went down, while it was yet day.

Into the mosaic of victory, was laid this precious piece.