The town of Bayeux is 24km north-west of Caen and the Bayeux War Cemetery lies to its south-west. It's located on the Boulevard Fabian Ware stretch of the bypass opposite the Bayeux Memorial. Ware was a leading figure in establishing the Imperial War Graves Commission. This would later become the current Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
During the Allied offensive, there was little fighting in Bayeux. It was one of the first significant liberated towns. The Bayeux War Cemetery is now the largest Commonwealth cemetery of World War Two in France. It contains burials from nearby field hospitals. Many of the men died in the war-torn surrounding districts including Sword Beach.
France assigned the cemetery grounds to the United Kingdom in perpetuity. This gesture was in recognition of the sacrifices made by the British Commonwealth in the war. The cemetery took shape in 1944 and work on it finished in 1952. The first burials were only two days after the Sherwood Rangers entered Bayeux on 6th June 1944. Simple wooden crosses marked the initial graves. Stone markers have now replaced these.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission operate the site. They are responsible for maintaining the graves. Of the 18 Commonwealth cemeteries in Normandy, Bayeux is the largest. The bodies of 3806 Commonwealth servicemen and women are at rest here. There are 338 unidentified graves and over 500 of other nationalities. The majority of these are German. The breakdown by nationality is as follows: United Kingdom (3935), Germany (466), Canada (181), Poland (25), Australia (17), New Zealand (8), Rusia (7), France (3), Czechoslovakia (2), Italy (2), South Africa (1).
These figures include 338 British soldiers with no known identity. A headstone inscribed with “A soldier of the 1939-45 War – Known unto God” marks their graves. One reason for the high number of British burials dates back to an old tradition. Through history, British soldiers’ burials took place alongside comrades close to where they died. This leads to a vast dispersal of British military graves and monuments.
Visiting the Bayeux War Cemetery
In the centre of the cemetery stands the Cross of Sacrifice, sometimes known as the War Cross. Sir Reginald Bloomfield designed the sculpture for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Graves radiate out in neat rows. In contrast to American and German cemeteries, the headstones are not uniform in shape. Commonwealth headstones have rounded tops and other nationalities differ a little. Polish markers have pointed tops, German ones are triangular and bear the Malta Cross. Russian gravestones display a Soviet star and a stepped crest.
Many headstones in the Bayeux War Cemetery show personalised inscriptions. Again, this is different from the American or German custom. As well as name, rank, dates of birth and death, Commonwealth headstones also carry images of the country or regiment. The final difference is the flowers planted in well-maintained rows next to the headstones.
Visitors to the Bayeux War Cemetery may access the grounds at any time for free. Several companies operate guided tours, either of the cemetery or as part of a larger package. As well as the cemetery and the Bayeux War Memorial, there are other nearby attractions. The Battle of Normandy Museum is a short walk away and worth a visit. Also in the vicinity, is the memorial to the 2000 war correspondents and journalists who have perished on battlefields through the years.
This post makes up part of our travel diary from the 70th-anniversary of D-Day in Normandy 2014.
Ulstermen in Bayeux
This Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery is the final resting place of 28 men with connections to Northern Ireland.
|Last Name||First Name(s)||Rank||Date of Death||Grave|
|Bates||Bert||Private||7th August 1944||XXII.E.1|
|Berry||Albert Edward||Fusilier||20th July 1944||I.F.23|
|Black||Robert||Corporal||7th June 1944||XIV.J.10|
|Browne||John Cassells||Major||9th August 1944||XXI.A.10|
|Clarke||James Crawford||Able Seaman||3rd July 1944||V.D.9|
|Gibson||William||Private||1st July 1944||XXV.E.15|
|Hanna||James||Sergeant||7th June 1944||XV.L.25|
|Harper||William||Corporal||13th August 1944||XXIII.C.3|
|Ireland||Thomas||Driver||11th August 1944||XII.C.11|
|Kelly||Hugh Francis||Rifleman||18th June 1944||XI.F.20|
|Kerrigan||David Hugh||Sergeant||26th August 1944||III.K.26|
|King||William Robert||Flying Officer||25th October 1943||XXVII.H.26|
|McAreavey||John Henry||Lance Corporal||16th June 1944||X.D.3|
|McBride||Thomas Moreland||Private||14th March 1940||XXIX.J.13|
|McCusker||Joseph||Private||14th July 1944||XVIII.D.11|
|McDowell||Charles||Sapper||27th August 1944||V.C.5|
|McWilliams||William||Bombardier||27th June 1944||XII.D.6|
|Millar||William Alexander||Sergeant||21st March 1941||VIII.C.11|
|Moore||William||Rifleman||26th June 1944||III.M.6|
|Morgan||Reginald Norman||Captain||7th June 1944||X.M.6|
|Morris||William Charles||Sergeant||14th July 1944||III.H.16|
|Osterfield||Frank||Trooper||3rd August 1944||I.D.12|
|Potts||Arthur||Guardsman||11th August 1944||XXVI.E.19|
|Reynolds||Edward Eli||Sergeant||6th June 1944||X.G.11|
|Rowe||William John||Private||6th June 1944||XIV.C.3|
|Smith||John Alexander||Marine||22nd June 1944||XVIII.E.1|
|Snape||John Thomas||Private||12th August 1944||II.J.22|
|Wright||Andrew McNeilly||Master||8th March 1945||VIII.B.21|
Private • 4923643
Private Bert Bates of Belfast, Co. Antrim served in Normandy with 1/6th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment at the time of his death on 7th August 1944.
John Cassells Browne
Major • 89229
Major John Cassells Browne died on 9th August 1944 when 'D' Company 6th Battalion Durham Light Infantry came under machine-gun attack in Normandy, France.
Thomas Fisher Churchill
Sergeant • 3247714
Thomas Fisher Churchill of the 9th Battalion Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) died on 26th June 1944 during the Battle of Normandy. He is buried in Bayeux.
James Crawford Clarke
Able Seaman • D/JX 367926
Able Seaman James Crawford Clarke was based at HMS Copra at the time of his death off the coast of France on 3rd July 1944 during the Battle of Normandy.
Private • 5122102
Private Frank Conlon was born in Belfast and served in 1st Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment. He took part in the Battle of Normandy in the summer of 1944.
Private • 5725299
Private William Gibson of Belfast, Co. Antrim died on 1st July 1944 while serving with 1st Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment in the Battle of Normandy.
Corporal • 5253511
Corporal William Harper of 2/6th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment died on 13th August 1944 during the Battle of Normandy. His grave is in Bayeux.
Driver • T/7007689
Driver Thomas Ireland (T/7007689) served in 282 General Transport Company, Royal Army Service Corps. He died in August 1944 during the Battle of Normandy.
Hugh Francis Kelly
Rifleman • 7023165
Rifleman Hugh Francis Kelly of Belfast, Co. Antrim died on 18th June 1944 while serving in the Normandy campaign with 2nd Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles.
David Hugh Kerrigan
Sergeant • 5250370
Sergeant David Hugh Kerrigan of Co. Tyrone died while in command of 12th Platoon, B Company, 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment on 26th August 1944.
George Anthony McCracken
Rifleman • 7013828
Rifleman George Anthony McCracken from East Belfast, Co. Down died on 21st June 1944 after sustaining shrapnel wounds near Bayeux, Normandy, France.
Sapper • 2199774
Sapper Charles McDowell of Derry, Co. Londonderry died on 27th August 1944 while serving in Normandy with 1049 Port Operating Company, Royal Engineers.
Reginald Norman Morgan
Lieutenant • 176548
Lieutenant Reginald Norman Morgan served with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Ulster Rifles and was last seen on 7th June 1944 during the Battle of Normandy.
William Charles Morris
Sergeant • 7011150
Sergeant William Charles Morris died on 14th July 1944 after sustaining shrapnel wounds a few days earlier during fierce fighting in the Battle of Normandy.
James Patrick Joseph O'Hanlon
Guardsman • 2723994
Guardsman James Patrick Joseph O'Hanlon died on 24th July 1944 while serving in the fiercely-fought Battle of Normandy with 3rd Battalion Irish Guards.
Trooper • 7912649
Trooper Frank Osterfield died on 3rd August 1944 while serving in 1st Royal Tank Regiment during the Battle of Normandy. His grave is in Bayeux, France.
Guardsman • 2724063
Lisburn born Guardsman Arthur Potts served in 3rd Battalion Irish Guards. His unit was fighting in the Battle of Normandy when he died on 11th August 1944.
William John Rowe
Private • 7011445
Private William John Rowe of Lisnaskea, Co. Fermanagh died on D-Day, 6th June 1944 as 5/7th Battlion Gordon Highlanders landed at Juno Beach, Normandy.
John Thomas Snape
Private • 4923770
Private John Thomas Snape married Ruth Lyttle of Banbridge, Co. Down before his untimely death during the Battle of Normandy in France on 12th August 1944.