One of the first cemeteries to be established in World War 1 was St Symphorien cemetery on the outskirts of Mons. Established in 1914 following the Battle of Mons, it today contains 229 Commonwealth casualties and 284 German casualties.
The N90 runs from Mons to Charleroi; if you take this route as you arrive at St Symphorien there is a turning off the N90 on the right hand side (Rue Nestor Dehon). About 200 metres along this road is the cemetery itself. The exact coordinates of the car park outside the cemetery are Latitude 50.43271 Longitude 4.01102. Due to the number of steps in the cemetery, and the general layout, wheelchair access is not possible.
About the Cemetery
Immediately following the Battle of Mons, most of the British and German dead were buried in nearby civilian cemeteries. Over a year after the battle, the German army began exhuming the bodies and re-interring them in a plot of land about 2 kilometres south east of Mons on the border of St Symphorien and Spienne. The owner of the land, Jean Houzeau de Lehaie, refused to sell the plot but agreed that it could used as a cemetery provided that the British and German casualties were treated with the same dignity as each other. The cemetery is based on what were two artificial mounds of earth created from the spoil of nearby phosphate mines and was inaugurated on the 6th of September 1917, with the inauguration ceremony attended by several prominent German figures of the time.
Differing from many World War 1 cemeteries in Belgium and France, St Symphorien is laid out with hillocks, pathways, discrete groupings of graves and many memorials. At the point of the Armistice, the cemetery contained 245 German and 188 Commonwealth servicemen but graves were subsequently brought in from many other cemeteries.
At the centre of the cemetery, at a height of 7 metres, is a large granite obelisk commemorating the British and German casualties of the Battle of Mons in August 1914. Elsewhere in the cemetery there are other German memorials to officers and soldiers of the Middlesex Regiment (Plot III), Royal Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Regiment (Plot VI).
There are a number of notable graves in St Symphorien Cemetery.
Private John Parr (Grave I A 10) – believed to be the first British casualty of the First World War
Private George Ellison (Grave I B 23) – believed to be the last British casualty of the First World War
The graves of Privates Parr and Ellison are, apparently coincidentally, about 8 feet (2 ½ metres) away from each other).
Private George Price (Grave V C 4) – a Canadian soldier who is believed to be the last Commonwealth casualty of the First World War.
Lieutenant Maurice Dease VC (V B 2) – the first posthumous recipient of a Victoria Cross in the First World War (4 were won on 23rd August 1914 in the Battle of Mons)
St Symphorien is a remarkable cemetery, and very different to most Word War cemeteries in the area. It’s very peaceful, moving and poignant. Perhaps it’s the notable graves (particularly the first and last casualties and the closeness of them to each other), or the German and British casualties lying side by side, but if you’re visiting the area and touring the battlefields, this cemetery is well worth a visit.