A burial, more than a hundred years after their death. British and Canadian officials officially launched Thursday the construction of a new 1,200-seat military cemetery in the Pas-de-Calais. This necropolis is intended to accommodate Commonwealth soldiers killed during the First World War and exhumed during the work on the Seine-Nord canal.
This future cemetery, managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), will be managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), which will be adjacent to the British cemetery of Loos-en-Gohelle, near Lens (Pas-de-Calais), which has 3,000 graves.
Another 100,000 soldiers under the battlefields
During the First World War, British, Canadian and Australian troops in particular, were mobilized for the Battle of the Somme, Artois, but also that of Lens, in the north of the France. More than half a million men from the Commonwealth fell at the front in France, including 20,000 to 30,000 in a 5km periphery around Lens.
"There are still 100,000 soldiers who rest under the French battlefields and have not been found," CWGC Executive Director Claire Horton said Thursday. One hundred years later, a hundred bodies are discovered each year.
The pace should accelerate with the construction of the Canal Seine Nord, which should join Compiègne, in the Oise, to Cambrai, in the North, by 2030, running over 107 km including a hundred along the front line of the First World War. The CWGC expects to recover several hundred bodies during the work.
Burying soldiers where they fell
"We will try to identify as many of them as possible, and find their families. This is a brief but crucial opportunity," said Claire Horton. The GWGC was entrusted with the care of all the remains exhumed during the work, whether from soldiers from the Commonwealth, French or Germans.
The member countries of this organization – Great Britain, whose nationals formed the bulk of the troops sent to the front, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa – chose to bury their soldiers where they fell, rather than repatriate them to their countries of origin.
However, the CWGC's 3,000 cemeteries in France are almost full. A hundred bodies found since 2018 as part of the construction of the new hospital in Lens are awaiting reburial. The new cemetery, which will be built partly with materials from the century-old necropolis of Loos-en-Gohelle, is the first to be built in France by the CWGC since 2011. It should receive the first remains at the end of 2024, once the work and the garden are completed.