A trip to Brussels Town Cemetery
In October, 2004 I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Machalen, just outside Brussels, Belgium. The morning of the day the conference was to start was open so I decided to take a trip to Evere, a northern suburb of Brussels and the location of a Commonwealth Cemetery, located inside Brussels Town Cemetery.
Evere is a short 25 minute train ride from Machalen. I was being spontaneous (another term for acting without a plan) and I had no idea where the cemetery was in relation to the train. I decided to take a chance on a direction and headed towards what looked like the older part of town. I asked a couple of people that pointed out that there were quite a few cemeteries nearby and they had never heard of one called “Brussels Town Cemetery”. Luckily, each bus stop has a map of the town, so I picked what looked to be the largest of the cemeteries and headed in that direction, stopping periodically to re-orient myself. It took about an hour of walking, but I did make it, and it was the right one.
There was a sign at the entrance saying that the Commonwealth section was “300 meters down the main avenue”. The morning was overcast and gray, and the main avenue is lined by massive trees that form a canopy over the roadway. The sides are lined by huge, very old looking mausoleums. The area around them isn’t kept up and many had doors ajar. It was a scene out of a story, unfortunately a Brothers Grim story. Still, I hadn’t come all that way to be put off by the atmosphere, so I hurried down the avenue.
Shortly I came to the Commonwealth area, which is in an open area off the main avenue. The first thing that strikes you as you enter is that the grounds are immaculate. The next is the Canadian flag that is attached to a wreath at the base of the central memorial. The cemetery has the remains of about 680 men, most from the Second World War. Most of the Second World War graves are from airmen killed in 1944 and 1945 when Brussels was along a central air route into Germany. There are 50 Canadian World War 2 graves, and 50 Canadian World War 1 graves.
The First World War graves are mainly from prisoners of war who had died in Germany (48), and on the supply route to Germany in 1919. I was looking for the grave of Billy Brooke. He was born in Huntingdon, Quebec to the daughter of Dr. Cameron who later moved to Ottawa. Billy had been captured1 during the 2nd battle of Ypres in April 1915. He was sent to a military prison in Germany for refusing to work as a POW in a German munitions factory. He was severely beaten and died in 1917 from pneumonia and neglect. I found his grave, and then spent about an hour just wandering through the cemetery. Every headstone is similar, but has a crest representing their affiliation. The Canadians have a maple leaf at the top, the Newfoundlanders (there was only 1) have a Caribou. Between the graves are rose bushes. It was late in the season, but there were still a few blooms left. Every Canadian grave has a small paper Canadian flag in front. Judging from the weathering of the flag, they have been there for some time.
I spent about two hours, wandering through, reading the inscriptions, taking photo's of each of the WW1 graves, and straightening those flags that had fallen over. Shortly after I got there the sun came out and brightened up the area. I had the place to myself, so it was quite peaceful. This was my first visit to a war cemetery. I had seen pictures, but it didn't prepare me for the emotional experience of seeing the graves.
I finally headed back to the station, taking a much more direct route, and back to Machalan.
Clicking on the photo will bring up a larger image.
The Great War Soldiers who are buried here are:
195974 Arthur Alsept
I have added links the the names where I have uploaded the photo of their tombstone.
If anyone would like higher resolution copies of any of these photos, please contact me.
1: There were 1,500 Canadians taken prisoner during 2nd Ypres, part of 6,000 Canadian casualities. 2nd Ypres was where the Germans used posion gas (Chlorine) for the first time on the Western Front..