WW1 graves neglected, broken tombstones tell a sorry story

Commonwealth War Graves Commission located graves of soldiers who died in WW1

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune | Updated: July 24, 2014 3:38:39 am
(Source: IE photo by Arul Horizon) (Source: IE photo by Arul Horizon)

Gone but not forgotten,’ reads the inscription on the tombstone of Harvey E A, 29th Lancers, Deccan Horse who died on November 15, 1917. A look at the condition of this WWI war grave at the St Sepulchre cemetery on Pune-Solapur road brings out the reality that all was forgotten here.

A Commonwealth War Graves Commission project had located as many as 146 graves of soldiers who died during World War I at St. Sepulchre cemetery and 114 graves at New Kirkee cemetery in Pune.

“Each life and death is a story that deserves to be told and we want to ensure that these war heroes will always be remembered and never forgotten,” M S Bahanwal, local manager for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Graves for World War I told  Newsline. The exercise of locating these war heroes commenced in 2009 under a joint Commonwealth project across India. While 260 such WW-I heroes’ graves have been identified in Pune, a total of 49 have been found at Ahmednagar, 33 at Nagpur and 168 at Deolali, Bahanwal said.

“It has been a challenging task,” Bahanwal admits. At Pune-Solapur road, the access to the eastern portion of the Sepulchre cemetery is through a small side gate which leads to a small path and then another portion where now 146 graves of World War I heroes have been temporarily marked for renovation.

Be it the graves of Lt R Hollingworth Browne (died Dec 28, 1919) of the Royal Artillery Force, Corporal S L Elliot of Royal Field Artillery, J G Thompson of Royal Engineering or then Gunner R Wright of Royal Field Artillery (died June 10, 1918), several headstones have now been removed for renovation as part of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission project.

These graves have been neglected and a visit to the eastern section of the cemetery showed that several tomb stones were broken. Many graves and headstones are in a state of disrepair. The entire place resembles a jungle of sorts where graves are hard to spot due to the overgrown grass. In fact, the graves have been a target of thieves as heads of statues of angels that adorn some of the tombstones of the graves have been stolen in the past. At another corner are beautifully designed headstones that have weathered over time and belong to graves of missionaries like Daniel Fox, Rev Richard Winsor and others who died between 1890 and 1910. These too are in a state of disrepair.

Father Salvadore Pinto, Chairman of the Pune Christian Cemetery Committee who manages as many as 15 cemeteries in the city said that lack of funds mars security arrangements.  He said the cemetary is guarded during the day, but there is not enough security during the night.

“The British graves are at one portion of the Sepulchre cemetery spread across 30 acres and we have appealed for funds for the maintenance to no avail though,” says Advocate Maragatham Mane, secretary of the committee. Mane admitted that despite several police complaints no action has been taken against elements who drink at the cemetery at night.

Bahanwal said they spent Rs 8 lakh for renovation at the Sepulchre cemetery and still a lot of work needs to be done.
“For the last four years, we have been trying to identify the graves according to information provided by the Commonwealth UK office. At New Kirkee (Caldicot) cemetery we located 36 graves which were under water. So far Rs 16 lakh has been spent here and a new pathway has been made,” he said.

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