India: Neglected WWI Graves to be Restored

Some of the headstones of these WWI graves may have the words Gone but Not Forgotten carved on them, but the state they are in, neglected with some of the tombstones broken, say otherwise.

Recently, a project of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was set up to find these WWI graves. The said undertaking has managed to locate 260 WWI graves so far — 146 graves of WWI soldiers at the St. Sepulchre Cemetery and 114 WWI graves at the New Kirkee cemetery. Both these burial grounds are located in Pune, India.

According to the local manager of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as well as the Graves for World War I, M S Bahanwal, they, speaking of the organization he is part of, just want to make sure the heroes of the Great War are never forgotten and that can be ensured through their WWI graves that retell the legacies they left. For these reasons, the organization is hell-bent on finding these WWI graves across India and restoring them.

Bahanwal further revealed that the undertaking of locating WWI graves started way back in 2009. It was done under the collective efforts of a Commonwealth project all across India. While the majority of these WWI graves was identified in Pune, other WWI graves were also located in Ahmednagar (49 WWI graves), Nagpur (33 WWI graves), and in Deolali (168 WWI graves).

Bahanwal also admitted that locating these WWI graves had not been plain sailing. In the Pune-Solapur Road alone, one has to go through a small gate and an equally small path to be able to reach the section where the 146 WWI graves are located in the Sepulchre Cemetery.

Meanwhile, as part of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission project, headstones of a number of the located WWI graves have been taken out for renovation.

Upon inspection, many of these WWI graves shows signs of severe neglect with many in disrepair. A number of the tombstones were broken. The whole section of the cemetery where the WWI graves are located looked like a jungle of sorts due to the overgrown grasses. As a matter of fact, the WWI graves as well as the others within the section have been constant targets of thieves.

In an interview, Father Salvadore Pinto, the chairman of the Pune Christian Cemetery Committee, which oversees 15 burial grounds in the city, stated that security arrangements for the cemetery have been marred due to lack of funding. He went on to say that the area is guarded during the day, but the place lacks security during the night when most of the vandalism thievery happen.

Bahanwal, for his part, revealed that they already spent 800,000 Indian rupees ($13,280) for the renovation. However, there are still many things to be done. All in all, the organization has spent 1,600,000 Indian rupees ($26,575) for the identification and renovation of the WWI graves in the last four years.

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE