Opened in 1859, Cathays Cemetery in Cardiff is the third largest municipal cemetery in Britain. I used to live opposite the cemetery – not as creepy as you might think – and now and then I have the opportunity to walk through it. Last year I noticed a memorial in the graveyard (my eye was attracted by the tricolour).
The simple plaque remembers the French sailors who died for their country during the Great War. This was not the first connection to the history of France that I had stumbled upon in Cardiff; a plaque on Park Place in the town centre commemorates the contribution of the local Franco-British society to the war effort during 1939-1945. Still, it seemed odd that a stone should be laid in Cardiff to French sailors of the Great War.
Last month, I discovered the reason behind the placing of the plaque: there are about 20 graves of French sailors in Cathays Cemetery. According to John Farnhill of the Friends of Cathays Cemetery (http://www.friendsofcathayscemetery.co.uk), each grave lists the name of the sailor and his ship, as well as the date of death. The graves are maintained on behalf of France by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The information that John has found shows that one sailor (Julien Marie Le Mituard) died in 1919 in Cardiff docks when his boat capsized, while several others died of ‘flu. It’s likely that illness and injury accounted for the deaths of the other sailors too.
I have posted here photos of several graves that I have found in the cemetery. We’re more used to seeing such white crosses in the huge cemeteries of northern France; the graves in Cardiff are evidence of an unexpected international dimension to the war. I wonder if the families ever visited the graveside of these men.