Lyon and Provence

Lyon Area

Not far from the Autoroute du Soleil as it passes just North of Lyon is one of the most out-of-the-way British Great War cemeteries I have come across. This is St Germain au Mont d'Or Communal Cemetery Extension.  "The Silent Cities" p. 355 says that the 93 Great War "burials were made from a British camp and hospital near the village from November 1917 until the end of the war". As a communal cemetery extension it did not have a register and visitors' book, but I suspect that it does not receive many visitors. It was of course in immaculate condition.

The South of France was important as the location of various depots and hospitals. Consequently there are several large military cemeteries in the region. One of these is at Villeurbanne, on the ring road just north of the centre of Lyon, which contains 6,346 graves. Of these over 3,600 are from the Great War and are of French or North African soldiers who died in hospitals in or near the city. This cemetery was particularly sad as it contains some old butts from a rifle range against which resistance fighters were executed in WWII. These men are commemorated with their own memorial.


The military cemetery at Luynes, just south of Aix-en-Provence, contains the remains of 8,347 French soldiers who died of wounds and disease in the region's hospitals. St-Mandrier -sur-Mer, on the peninsula which forms the south side of Toulon harbour, was important in the Great War as the location of the Toulon Maritime Hospital. The hospital is still in service today. At the top of the hill behind the hospital is a military cemetery which contains the remains of 1,806 French soldiers and sailors from the Great War. It also contains several other memorials, in particular the Monument aux Morts du Service de Sante 1670-1935 as well as a WWII Italian burial ground.

The final Great War site that I found in the area is the Mazargues Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing which is 6 miles south of the centre of Marseilles. This is one of the most unusual CWGC cemeteries that I have been to. (It is mentioned on p.356 of "The Silent Cities".) It contains a network of canal-like ponds which helps to keep the grass green despite the hot summers. There is a strange mixture of colonial and other troops buried within, including: Fijian Labour Corps, British West Indies Regt (188 men) Egyptian Labour Corps, Chinese Labour Corps and the Indian Army (the largest contingent of 984 men). The Memorial to the Missing records 125 missing, which includes some Hindu soldiers who were cremated in accordance with their religion rather than buried. Some of these were victims of the SS Majestic and SS Arcadian which were torpedoed off Marseilles. Others died after the Armistice, in many cases presumably as a result of the influenza pandemic of 1919.  One can only wonder with sadness at the mixture of forces and plain bad luck that could cause, for example, a Fijian soldier to come half-way around the world only to die so far from home.

Marseilles was important as it was the base port for the Indian Corps in France, so some of these men would have died in a base hospital in the town. (There may be something about the role of the port for the Indian Corps in the 1915 volumes of the British Official History: I don't have these with me so I can't check.) I assume that it was also a port of embarkation and disembarkation for British Empire troops moving between the Western Front and other fronts in the Middle East. The Cemetery and Memorial are well worth a visit if you are on holiday in this part of France. It does not have many visitors other than Armistice Day, although I did notice that one other member of my branch of the WFA had visited a few months before.

Copyright © Charles Fair, May, 1997.

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