On the eastern slopes of the Aravali Hills, near Brar Square in Delhi, stands one of the most heart moving and majestic war cemeteries of the world — The Delhi War Cemetery. This pristine, sacred shrine was built in the memory of the martyrs of World War I and II.
A grave start
The modern concept of war cemeteries was initiated by Major General Fabian Ware, in France. During 1914 he noticed that no organisation, recorded the final resting place of soldiers and that most of the time the graves were lost forever. Thus the first cemetery was built in France where the basic layout was standardised. The Delhi War Cemetery was crafted in 1951 and is painstakingly maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It has 1,155 identified headstones of European soldiers and the majority soldiers are of Dutch origin. Some headstones of civilians from different cemeteries in northern India were also moved here to ensure their preservation.
Peace by peace
Its only words Across the gate, proudly mounted on a stepped pedestal stands the cuboidal shaped “Stone of Remembrance,” which was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. It is etched with soul-stirring quotes, praising the war heroes for their bravery and sacrifice. This stone is phlanxed by seven plots of headstone cluster beds on three sides. A headstone is a rectangular stone slab off-white in colour. It is engraved with the soldier’s unique identification number, rank, name, date of birth, date of martyrdom, his unit’s regimental crest and a loving quote from his family members. Each identically shaped headstone is unique in terms of the etched details.
Generally, a soldier’s descendants endeavour to visit the headstone and pay reverence or try to ascertain its location. The Commonwealth Graves Commission readily provides headstone information with photographs to the descendants of the deceased soldiers. Ahead of the “Wall of Remembrance”, in the center of the cemetery, stands the “Cross of Sacrifice”, on a stepped pedestal that tapers off into the base of the cross as it rises up. This relic was designed by Sir Reginald Bloomfield.
The headstones have been planted with military or geometric precision. It is an incredible sight to see hundreds of headstones presenting impressionable vistas when viewed from different directions. A diagonal viewing provides a distinctly different mosaic than when viewed vertically or horizontally along the sides of this headstone bed. Each headstone has a tiny flowering plant in front symbolising a wreath and the thought that “we still care for your sacrifice”.
An impressive function by the Commission and embassy officials in Delhi is held on the Armistice Day to honour the martyrs. At times, the third generation descendants of the war heroes are also known to come and remember their ancestors. To enable the latter to rest and remember their ancestors or friends in peace; the Cemetery has numerous unobtrusive yet conveniently designed benches at various places. The inner periphery of the Cemetery has a special shady foot path. The shade is provided by a combination of wooden beams and rafters that are covered over with creepers.
Thus the plants and the associated shade provide a cool relief to the homage payers during warm weather. The Cemetery also has two stone shelters where visitors can sit in solitude and privacy to remember their war fallen. These stone huts are airy and are covered with creepers to keep them cool. The Delhi War Cemetery even today majestically stands and proudly acknowledges for posterity, the sacrifice of the brave soldiers of the Great Wars as if, to say to the visitors “When you go back home, tell them of us, for their tomorrow, we gave our today”.
— The author is a provost officer with keen interest in creative, analytical writing, forensics and negotiating skills