The Bayeux Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in the Normandy is the largest Second World War British military cemetery in France.
The Bayeux War Cemetery, with the graves of nearly 5,000 soldiers, is the largest Second World War cemetery of British war casualties in France. The cemetery has the graves of nearly 4,000 British soldiers but also graves for military personnel from ten further nations, including a large number of German soldiers. A classical memorial honor the memories of a further 1,807 Commonwealth soldiers missing-in-action. The Bayeux Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery is near the Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum in the southern edge of the town center. The cemetery is freely accessible year round.
The Bayeux Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery
The Bayeux War Cemetery is the largest Second World War cemetery of British and Commonwealth soldiers in France. Most of the soldiers buried here died during D-Day (June 6, 1944) and the Battle of Normandy that followed.
Over 25,000 soldiers are buried in 18 Commonwealth cemeteries in Normandy with many more buried in local communal and churchyard cemeteries. In contrast to the American custom of repatriating bodies, or reburying in dedicated American cemeteries (in Normandy at Colleville-sur-Mer and Saint-James), the British and Commonwealth soldiers were usually not moved after first burial.
The Bayeux War Cemetery has 4,648 graves:
- British – 3,935
- Canadian – 181
- Australian – 17
- New Zealand – 8
- South African – 1
- Polish – 25
- France – 3
- Czech – 2
- Italian – 2
- Russian – 7
- German – 466
- Unidentified – 1
(These figures include 338 British soldiers who could not be identified individually. Their graves are marked by gravestones inscribed with “A soldier of the 1939-45 War – Known unto God”.)
A memorial lists the names of a further 1,807 Commonwealth soldiers who were missing-in-action during the liberation of France.
Visiting the Bayeux War Cemetery
Construction of the Bayeux War Cemetery began already two days after the D-Day landings – see 1944 photos. Since then, the simple crosses on the graves had been replaced by stone headstones.
In contrast to the American and German war cemeteries, headstones here are not totally uniform with the top ends slightly different for the respective nations. The Commonwealth headstones are slightly rounded at the top while the Polish stones are more pointed, the German stones triangular and with the Malta Cross, and Russian ones with little steps and the Soviet Star (but no sickle) – see Wikimedia Commons for more examples.
Also, in contrast to the American practice, the inscriptions on the headstones in the Bayeux War Cemetery are personalized. In addition to the traditional names, rank, dates of birth and death, headstones here also carry images of the regiment or country, as well as personal messages from family members. These range from Latin inscriptions to the more traditional (e.g. Remembered with honour; Thy Will Be Done; In Memory of Our…) and simpler personal messages (often the most heart wrenching even 70 year later).
In contrast to the Normandy American Military Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer and the German Kriegsgräberstätte at La Cambe, flowers are planted in the rows directly next to the headstones. Like the American cemetery, visiting the Bayeux cemetery is inherently sad but in no way a morbid experience.
The Bayeux Memorial in Normandy
At the northeastern (old town side) of the cemetery is the classical Bayeux Memorial (Mémorial Britannique) for the Commonwealth soldiers who died during Operation Overlord. It contains the names of 1,801 Commonwealth soldiers, who went missing in action during D-Day, the Battle of Normandy, and the advance on Paris in 1944.
The Bayeux Memorial is also famous for carrying the Latin inscription:
- “Nos A Gulielmo Victi Victoris Patriam Liberavimus”
- “We, once conquered by William, have now set free the Conqueror’s native land”
Latin is indeed a more cryptic language.
The Bayeux Memorial is separated from the Bayeux Cemetery by the southern ring road. It is less perverse if bearing in mind that this road was originally built by the British in 1944 to allow military convoys to bypass the narrow streets of Bayeux.
Bayeux claims to be the first town of significance to have been liberated in France in 1944. (Sainte-Mère-Église and others claim the same but Bayeux became the head quarters of De Gaulle until Paris was liberated.) The town itself saw very little fighting and escaped the Second World War mostly undamaged.
Bayeux War Cemetery Visitors Information
The Bayeux War Cemetery and Bayeux Memorial are open year round and freely accessible during daylight hours.
The cemetery is diagonally across the road from the Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum (Musée Mémorial Bataille de Normandie), which is well signposted. The museum close during lunchtime for part of the year, so plan accordingly.
Parking is available at the museum or in side streets. It is also a pleasant ten-minute walk to the cemetery from the old town center of Bayeux and the Bayeux Tapestry Museum.
Next to the memorial is the Mémorial des Reporters – a memorial and walkway with the names of nearly 2,000 journalists and member of the press killed since 1944.