Commonwealth War Graves Commission One hundredth Anniversary

Charlotte Livingston's Silver Cross Pilgrimage to the Battlefields of France and Belgium

BX August 2, 1928

Death’s Silent Comradeship in Battlefields of France – Maple Leaves Designate the Graves of Canadian Soldiers – Graves Across the Sea Carefully Tended – The Same Beauty, the Same Peace, Everywhere – Solace to a Mother’s heart to See the Resting Places of Her Sons.

Mrs. W.C. Livingston, who has just returned from visiting the war graves in France, with the Silver Cross Pilgrimage speaks particularly of the care bestowed upon the graves of those who fell in the Great World War. This attention to the last resting places of thousands of our Canadian boys deeply touched the hearts of those on the pilgrimage, all of whom had lost dear ones.  It was a great solace to see these well-kept “gardens of the brave,” away across the sea tenderly cared for by thoughtful people.  One occasion stood out particularly in mind.  When visiting one of the war cemeteries, Mrs. Livingston queried the old caretaker, as to the reason of the fresh flowers, which had just been placed on the graves, and the answer was:

“They are always placed there on Dominion Day by the children of the village.”

Such tributes as these went to the hearts of the visiting Canadians who felt that their dear ones, though dead, were not forgotten.

Canadian Wreath

The members of the Silver Cross Pilgrimage crossed on the “Ascania” and visited Canada House, London, about June 18. Their arrival had been preceded by a wireless message, requesting that every consideration be shown and every courtesy extended to the members of the party. The first act of those on the pilgrimage was to deposit a wreath on the cenotaph.  A beautiful large wreath of yellow lilies, yellow roses and marigolds – like glorious sunshine – was reverently placed at the foot of the cenotaph, which stands in the heart of London, in the midst of the rush and hurry of that great metropolis, mute symbol of the remembrance not of one country, but of the Empire.  Here amid other tributes, which are place freshly each day by those who hold the Empire’s heroes in remembrance, the wreath was placed with full hearts, by the members of this band of pilgrims, who had traveled across the sea, drawn by love and remembrance of their dear ones.  The silver lettering on the card read; “Our Glorious Dead, from the Silver Cross Chapter of Canada.

London Cenotaph

And so this simple but significant ceremony, which meant so much to Canadian hearts was enacted in the heart of the Motherland, for whom these soldiers gave their lives.  The traffic was held, as the party passed to and from the cenotaph.  A visit to Westminster Abbey was also made to the Unknown Soldier’s grave.  The grave, which represents thousands of those, who gave their lives and whose resting places never were known. This hallowed place, Mrs. Livingston says, is most impressive and exceedingly beautiful.  The soft light which streams through the stained glass windows shines like a holy light upon the tomb.  There are always fresh flowers placed there, just as on the cenotaph. The man who first conceived the idea of the Unknown Soldier became its custodian and when he died, his grave was placed just beneath that of the Unknown Soldier, whose custodian he still remains.  Many of the cards attached to the tributes to the dead were inscribed from Mothers Unions, which were founded by the Duke of Clarence.

Witley Camp

Witley camp, Surrey was visited, where so many Canadians were stationed.  The quaint little church, in which a number of Brantfordites were married, was a spot of much interest.  In the register of the church were inscribed the names of those whose marriages had been solemnized there.  On the walls of the church was a beautiful tablet placed by the Canadian soldiers in commemoration of their stay at Witley and also a marble memorial tablet placed by the residents of Witley to the Canadian boys, who had given their lives.  While Hart Inn was also visited, where the boys had often spent many happy hours. Bramshott, where the military hospital was situated and where so many of our Canadian boys yielded up their lives, was a source of much reminiscence.  Here, torn and wounded they came, and all that human power could do for them was done by skillful doctors and patient nurses.

War Cemeteries

The war cemeteries, the Mecca of this pilgrimage, were visited one by one.  The War Graves Commission, headed by Lord Spofford, looks after 300,000 British cemeteries.

Gallipoli in Saloniki, in Mesopotamia and wherever a British soldier rests, the Commission looks after the graves.  These are its sacred trust. It was July the second, when Mrs. Livingston visited the cemetery at Bramshott.  She was surprised to see fresh flowers on all the graves. Inquiring the reason from the old sexton, he explained that the children of the village, under supervision, carried these bright flowers and reverently placed them on the resting places of our Canadian heroes, on Canada’s Dominion Day. This touching tribute sunk deeply into Canadian hearts. The pilgrims crossed to Lille where their guide met them and there visited Sanctuary Wood, St. Julien, Vimy, places hallowed by Canadian blood.  Beneath the surface of the earth at Vimy, 80 feet below, was a tunnel that had taken 18 months to complete through the rock.  Names were inscribed on the walls, of soldiers whose hands now lie helpless in death.  Among these names the head of a soldier was beautifully sculptured from the rock by some gifted hand. The water dripped down the side of the rock.  It was heartbreaking to think of the wet, cold comfortless quarters of our soldiers and all the agony of body and mind, they must have endured in stress of weather.  The tables, discarded tins, old half-burned candles, bed frames; were left just as the place had been vacated.  Spirits of war days seemed to haunt the place as though jealous that it should be occupied by any others.  In some places at Vimy, barbed wire entanglements of contending armies were not more than 50 yards apart.

Mrs. Livingston, who is president of the Women’s section of the Brant War Memorial, had hoped to see Mr. Allward, who is working on the Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge, but he had gone to London.  The workmen however were busily engaged on the foundation and pylons of this towering Canadian monument, which will, when finished, be seen for miles around.  About it, they are making beautiful grounds, which will greatly enhance its setting.  An avenue of maple trees, still slight and young, give promise of greater beauty in the near future.

Ypres – ruined Ypres.  It is hard to conceive the former beautiful place ruined by the ravages of war, in the newly built Ypres of today. Even the famous Cloth Hall has been remodeled as nearly as possible along its own original lines.  The Menin Gate memorializes 68,000 soldiers, who gave their lives in the Great War and whose bodies were never found.  All over this gate these names are inscribed.  It makes an impressive entrance to the city.  Tyne Cot Cemetery, which is the largest and most beautiful of the war cemeteries, cherishes 14,000 graves.  It seems to the bewildered eye like acres and acres and acres of graves.  The flowers move in the summer wind like billows of color, campanulas, Canterbury bells, violas, wild thyme and roses, color succeeding color in their motion.  In all these cemeteries is a Cross of Remembrance or a Stone of Sacrifice. Some cemeteries are in the centre of a wheat field, walled about, in their place apart, the wheat growing all about them.  But all are equally well cared for.  The same care everywhere, the same beauty, the same peace. 

The German graves are graveled; the same crosses originally placed to mark the resting places of the dead, still remain. They record that lads of tender years; many 14 many 16 – mere lads from school – lay buried beneath as youth’s sacrifice for its country.  In Adanac, Mrs. Livingston noted many names of the 58th Battalion, commanded at one time by Col. H.A. Genet, formerly of Brantford and in which battalion there were many Brantford men, many of whom paid the supreme sacrifice.  Stone after stone, marked with the maple leaf, designated the countless graves of brave Canadians.  And so our soldiers lie in their last earthly resting place across the sea, tenderly tended by other hands, reverently memorialized by other hearts, as well as those which beat in Canada.

It was a great solace to a mother’s heart to look upon the graves of her hero sons and to be aware that they are still held in remembrance.  And Mrs. Livingston wished that every mother who had lost a son could have stood beside her, as she looked upon the graves of her own dear ones and of hundreds of other valiant Canadians – all lying in the great, silent comradeship of death, where all ranks, all professions were merged in their heroic effort to do their best for the greatest Empire in the world.