Grave Tales and True

Cemeteries, tombstones and memories

In the course of examining the lives of the past, tombstone information found in cemeteries or graveyards can add vital details about ancestors lives. More than that however, cemeteries are special places of remembrance and over the years I've had the occasion to visit many, not just for funerals but for memorial services and to ponder on life in places of great beauty and significance. Here's a small taste of those experiences.

Beauty in remembrance

1. Here are a few of the beautiful floral graves of Pietersfriedhof in Salzburg, Austria. Many will recognise this scenery from the "Sound Of Music" film. My 2014 photos do little justice to these nurtured mini gardens.

2. Overawed - War cemeteries of northern France and Belgium

For 4 years my husband worked in Paris. In that period we visited a wide range of war cemeteries and attended many memorial services on the battlefields of Northern France and Belgium. The frequency of small cemeteries along rural roads and the sheer size of the memorials often left one overawed at the scale of death. 

3. The coldest cemeteries

Sevenhill, South Australia vs Vimy Ridge, Cemetery in France.
In July 2018 we attended the funeral of a dear brother-in-law Christopher Stephen Maloney. The Mass was held in the stately Sevenhill Church, never famed for its comfort. The funeral proceeded to the top of the hill for the internment. It was a bitterly cold day with the temperature hovering well below 8C with an accompanying breeze. 

The day that challenged the chill factor was at the ceremony held in May 2000 when the Commonwealth War Graves Commission handed over a casket containing an unknown Canadian soldier to be repatriated to Camada. My husband was one of the ABCA (American, British, Canadian and Australian) attaches designated to slow march accompanying the coffin up the hill to the Vimy Ridge Memorial. The wait for those of us standing at the top was agonisingly cold but nothing compared to agony of the slow march in Australian service dress not designed for frigid temperatures with a chill wind.

4. Monumental 

 The size of the monument at Thiepval in northern France only becomes obvious as one comes close. It can be seen from a distance but as one draws near it dominates the surrounding landscape. More than 72300 names are commemorated here. 
Equally impressive of course is the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris where each day at 6 pm a wreath is laid at the tomb of the unknown soldier. 
The ceremony at the Menin Gate, in Belgium each evening is another monument of import we attended in remembering the war dead.
It is difficult to capture the size and extent of the ossuary at Douaumont and the surrounding gravesites on the battlefields of Verdun.

5. Smallest 

In the corner of a field at Pinkerton Plains in South Australia lies a small cemetery containing the graves of the Catholics of the Hamley Bridge, Pinkerton Plains and Alma areas from 1862 until the last burial there in 2013. My Smyth great grandparents along with their some of their close relatives are buried there. The O'Dea side of the family also list internments at Pinkerton Plains but no monuments for those families are visible.

6. Dearest to me - Navan near Riverton, South Australia

Off a countryside gravel road, a small mortuary chapel marks the entrance to Navan Cemetery. Built on land donated by John O'Brien to the local Catholic parish, this cemetery has the graves of my parents, paternal grandparents, aunt and uncle along with many Smyth and McInerney relatives. The most recent funeral attended there was for my beloved sister in law Louise who died in 2018.

7. Oldest known Australian ancestor burials - St Johns near Kapunda

Great-gt-grandmother Johanna Horgan was buried at St Johns in 1880. Her son John (gt-grandfather) died after a short illness in the winter of 1883 and also rests there along with his sons Thomas and John and daughters Catherine and Johanna.

8 Memorable

Anzac Day in 1997 occurred shortly after we arrived in France. Commemoration ceremonies were to take place at both Bullecourt and Villers-Bretonneux. On a cold wet windy day, bringing home to all something of the conditions those in the trenches must have suffered, we headed north. Our daughter was privileged to read the ode at the Australian Bullecourt ceremony that day. My husband's official duties accompanying the Ambassador as wreaths were laid, was just the first of many of these occasions which followed in the next four years.
French memorial - Bullecourt

Lunch at VB

The repast provided by the village of Villers-Bretonneux at the conclusion of the ceremonies was outstanding with platters of food in the shape of kangaroos, maps of Australia and more.

9. Tribute memorial- Smyth chapel

The next time I visit Adelaide I intend to visit the West Terrace Cemetery and see the Smyth Chapel built to commemorate the memory of my gt-grandfather's brother, the Rev John Smyth. He arrived in Adelaide in 1853 and proved to be a gifted administrator and orator in the early years of the Catholic Church in South Australia. He was appointed Vicar General but died in 1870 aged in his mid forties. The newspapers of the day published many tributes and funds were raised for the memorial chapel.

10. Simple marker 

A simple marker on this grave of a 1st cousin once removed in Katanning, Western Australia 

A humorous incident

To finish with an anecdote. More than 50 years ago teenagers in their final year of schooling were attending a social dance for a girls and a boys school in Adelaide. A certain young woman wanted to escape the nuns' supervisory vigilance and planned to meet her boyfriend outside the hall, specifically in an unlit location - in the nuns' cemetery. I accompanied her as she assured me her friend had a friend. Need I say more, that was the night I met my husband-to-be, of all places - in a cemetery.

This post first appeared on by CRGalvin


  1. Goodness, you've been to some amazing cemeteries and memorial services from huge to small. Thanks for sharing.

  2. So many incredible places. I hope we will always respect those who have passed despite the cries of no room left.

  3. Such a wide range of experiences. The war cemeteries of France and Belgium are heart-breaking and yet I feel sadder almost for those buried in the German graves. They are so stark and appear uncared for in comparison with those of the CWGC and rarely are there flowers that I’ve seen. Like our soldiers they were men with families doing what the powers that be dictated.

    I loved the story of you meeting your husband-to-be! One for the record books.

    1. Yes the German war graves were very stark which is interesting compared to their municipal cemeteries. I thought the ossuary at Douaumont actually recognised the dead of both sides more than anywhere else. The catacombs in Paris were fascinating to visit too, somewhere I have pictures of us down there too.

  4. Carmel, started writing a comment and it disappeared in a flash. Not sure what happened so writing again to make sure you get my message - enjoyed your blog post. Reminded me of many others I have visited. Like stopping in graveyards in Cornwall just in case we find some ancestor. Fran

  5. Congratulations! Your blog has been included in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at
    Thank you, Chris


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