Mons Memorial Museum
Enemies on the battlefield, united in death. This could be the motto of Saint-Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons. Here lie 229 Commonwealth soldiers and 284 German soldiers, virtually hand in hand.
With two stars in the Michelin guide, Saint-Symphorien Cemetery is one of Belgium’s greatest tourist sites. And for good reason. Nowhere else in Europe is there a memorial site like it. More than just a cemetery, this is a place of rest or a garden of peace. The environment is closer to that of a botanical garden. Made up of little islands of green, Saint-Symphorien Military Cemetery is filled with different atmospheres and areas of contemplation. Different conifers share the space with rare species, like the Japanese cherry tree. But behind these tall trees hides an incredibly symbolic story.
In 1916, when the city of Mons was occupied, a German soldier wandered into the fields looking for a plot to bury the bodies of his comrades who had been killed during the first battle of Mons in August 1914. By chance, he came across Jean Houzeau De Lehaie, an eminent botanist from Mons, who decided to help the soldier. The Belgian offered him the site of an old quarry, on the one condition that it would become a cemetery for all nationalities, without any exceptions. This solution was accepted by the Germans and negotiated with the local authorities, bringing together all soldiers, without distinction, in one place.
The obelisk opposite the Cross of Sacrifice bears the following inscription:
“In memory of the German and English soldiers who fell in the action near Mons on the 23rd and 24th August 1914”.
The German and British soldiers… As incredible as it might seem, Saint-Symphorien Military Cemetery brings together soldiers from enemy countries. Here there isn’t a German plot or a British plot. Lieutenant Maurice James Dease from the 4th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, the first soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross, is buried just a few feet from Niemeyer, the first German recipient of the Iron Cross.