History of the Belgian civil cemeteries
On the Belgian civil cemeteries the local municipal authorities or city council independently decided how they treated the remains of their heroes transferred to their home towns. In small parish communities, it was not uncommon that the parish priest had also some say in the matter.
In many places the dead were hailed like heroes, most of them actually were heroes, but in small village cemeteries one was always short of space, thing were different. The Spanish flu and the German repression also made many victims among the civilian population and most cemeteries were overcrowded.
When the families of these heroes possessed a family grave in the local graveyard, there was no problem. Most families were happy enough to provide a space for the son or grandson whereoff, in all their misery, they were also very proud, for he had done his duty at the highest price. In Lebbeke for example Joseph Tirez is buried in the family grave near the monument of the local cemetery.
In some cases the parents bought perpetual concessions for these heroes. Of course, that was beyond the means of the average working man, and therefore, those families who left their child in the care of the military cemeteries, although far from home, even as you will read here, on foreign soil, made the wisest decision. History taught us that lesson.
But shortly after the war and in the early twenties, when the real repatriation got up to speed, that history had not been written yet. According to data from the IV NIOOO about half of the identified dead would be transferred to their birthplace or to the municipality were they lived in 1914.
Except in larger cities where the city provided honorary parks (carré militaire) for their heroes in a separate section of their cemetery, it was a near-certainty that their graves, among the civil graves would also be cleared along with the civil graves, when local governance decided such clearance was necessary.
And so it happened. The remains of thousands of our war victims were cleared from the graveyards, especially in the period immediately after the Second World War, and that without making a lot of clamour about it.
The result is that today, searching for the tombstone of a soldier killed in the First World War, on a municipal cemetery, is like searching for a needle in a haystack. In Charleroi, together with a cemetery attendant, I spent two hours walking around and looking for a specific tombstone. It turned out that he was cleared in the fifties.
However, there are still cemeteries where we can bring a salute to a Great War victim, as you will read hereafter.