Resting Ground | The Delhi War Cemetery

The Delhi 1939-45 War Memorial
The Delhi 1939-45 War Memorial

There is something about a cemetery that makes me feel at peace with the world. When Death, the great equalizer, is all around me, it suddenly ceases to be frightening any more. Peace envelops me as I look around, too conscious of the impermanence and the fragile beauty of life.

My friend Moony and I are visiting the Delhi War Cemetery, about which we learnt only this morning. Earlier in the day, we happened to find ourselves in West Delhi, and Google Maps kindly lit up with a new site that we hadn’t yet explored. So off we went, after the 3rd amused auto driver agreed to hunt down this obscure site for us. Within a few minutes we had realized why others had been unwilling so far….(No, I am not about to launch into a “haunted” story). This historic cemetery is a forgotten entity, even auto drivers haven’t heard about it. Many a wrong turn later we were finally at a railway crossing that would lead us to our destination. By then the sun was beginning to set, and in the beautiful evening light we came upon a place so lovely, peaceful and well maintained that we were taken aback. An ode to the soldiers that had lost their lives in World Wars I and II lay ahead of us. Rarely have we found such well-maintained spots in the city.

Our “auto wale bhaiya” agreed to wait for us if we could wrap up our visit in 15 minutes flat. That was too short, but we were not about to argue with him. This cemetery was well inside the Delhi Cantonment area and rather secluded, and there was no way we could get back to civilization unless we had this helpful guy waiting for us.

The cemetery has an imposing gateway leading into a lovely garden  neatly lined with tombstones commemorating the soldiers who participated in the two World Wars. It was created in 1951 to permanently house the remains of those buried in the several cantonment cemeteries of North India- Allahabad, Dehradun, Kanpur and Lucknow. Over a thousand people who lost their lives in the Second World War are buried here today, most of them belonging to the Commonwealth, but some also from other nationalities, mainly Dutch. The massive entrance gateway forms the Delhi 1939-45 War Memorial. It is dedicated to the 25,000 people of undivided India who lost their lives fighting this war, and were accorded last rites in accordance with their religions. All their names are recorded in a Roll of Honor.

Later on in 1966, some bodies of World War I martyrs were disinterred from their original graves in the Nicholson Cemetery near Kashmiri Gate and moved to the Delhi War Cemetery for permanent maintenance, along with their brethren from World War II. There is also a stately memorial to some victims of the World War I whose graves in Meerut could no longer be maintained.

Lovely climbers in full bloom adorn the walks between the tombs today, a fitting tribute to the many war heroes lying here…some of them as young as 21! As Moony and I read aloud some of the epithets, we imagine the young soldiers, full of the joy of youth, their lives suddenly cut short by a war that tore the world….We didn’t know these people in life, but in death their epithets seemed to bring them alive. Their burial in a land so far from their homes and at such tender ages only demonstrates the madness that is war.

There are some little children playing and running around, probably the kids of the caretakers. Some of them are climbing the war memorial in the evening light, oblivious to that thing called death. Life is beautiful. To them this cemetery is just a pretty playground.

A thousand martyrs
A thousand martyrs
Rest in peace
Rest in peace
Road to heaven
Road to heaven
Symmetry and tranquility
Symmetry and tranquility
An offering of flowers
Serene resting ground
Soldiers forever
Soldiers forever
Evening light
Evening light
"Their name liveth for evermore"
“Their name liveth for evermore”
The World War I Memorial
The World War I Memorial
A flower plucked too soon
An offering of flowers

13 Comments Add yours

  1. debajyoti says:

    that’s beautifully maintained. what a lovely way to honor those soldiers. they wouldn’t know about any of these things but the surrounding will ensure that we look at their tombstones with everything around.

    p.s. – The auto driver had to wait for you. Even he couldn’t have gone back to civilization with a passenger if he hadn’t waited for you.

    1. wanderfool says:

      Thanks Debajyoti. Indeed, it’s a fitting tribute to honor the war heroes.

      As for the auto driver, yeah, that’s thinking like a smart Dilliwala 😀

  2. twobitwo says:

    This place looks so peaceful… you have got some great clicks 🙂

    1. wanderfool says:

      Thank you twobitwo. Yes, indeed, it’s a very peaceful place.

  3. Journomuse says:

    Hey, thanks to indiblogger got here, wanderfool…I’m wanderlusty too…and your photographs are the perfect accompaniment..Look forward to reading more about Delhi..:)

    1. wanderfool says:

      Thanks so much Journomuse, and welcome to this blog 🙂 So where are you based out of? Have you visited Delhi and its nooks and corners?

  4. fantastic as ever !

    1. wanderfool says:

      Thanks a lot Ken. Always look forward to your feedback 🙂

  5. Wow, I used to wonder if India had anything like a war memorial akin to the one I saw in Manila

    Thanks for this discovery… wonder what else our capital has to offer!

    1. wanderfool says:

      Thanks Mithun. The capital really has plenty of treasures to offer…if you are in Delhi you can explore innumerable forts and mosques and tombs and ruins.

  6. Vishal Vyas says:

    It is satisfying to see people caring to pay a visit there. For me that place is more like a temple and I visit that place whenever i am in the capital. Ironically the cemetery is maintained by the British High Commission & our own nation is not bothered about being grateful to the young men who sacrificed their life for a country which was never their. Soldiers are patriots, but they do not belong to any nation. They belong to the batlefield and they would continue to chose profession of arms irrespective of the nation in which they are born. The sad truth is that our nation is yet to build a war memorial for our men who died in various wars post independence. I thank you for going there and bring peace to their souls.

    “I am the unknown soldier, forgotten and ignored
    When once the war is over and peace and quiet assured

    We fought for you and the country and now that we are dead
    We rest in quiet exclusion, ’cause nothing more is said
    Of how we did our duty, that you may sleep in peace
    When once the foe was vanquished, and the strife of war had ceased

    The country called upon us to do what needs to be done
    To oust the vicious enemy and ensure the war was won
    Our near and dear ones blessed us and sent us full of pride
    To defend the country’s honour and some were new-wed brides

    We went and fought your battles, most of which were won
    Some of us never came back, all were mother’s son
    Our bodies they do lie there, on hill and vale and plain
    Exposed to all the elements of snow and ice and rain

    So many were anxious, some still do wait in vain
    What can you do to lessen our loved one’s grief and pain?
    Our last rites were not given, we died a soldier’s death
    Our eldest sons kept waiting, their hopes could not be met

    We went and did our duty, we do not ask for much
    Only a place of honour, our loved one’s heart to touch
    A place where they can think of happy days gone by
    To pray on the lonesome morrow and if need be stand and cry

    Although we have left earth’s orbit and need rest in peace
    Our soul are not past caring, our pain will never cease
    Till you and the country’s leaders create a haloed space
    For a fitting War Memorial, on valour and honour based.”

    Author: Major General Ian Cardozo

  7. William (Bill) Bombroff says:

    I have visited the Cemetery several times in 2006 including the
    Remembrance Day Service and again, several times in 2014 including Remembrance Day to mark the 70th Anniversary of his passing, to stand at the Headstone of my Father. My Father died
    when I was 6 and a 1/2 years old. My Mother never re-married.
    I find the Cemetery so beautifully kept and very peaceful. The
    dedicated Head Gardener and his Team, are to be congratulated for the dedication and devotion they display in their up-keep of the Gardens and Memorials.
    A very grateful Son.

    Bill Bombroff (Bristol, England)

  8. hari says:

    I never fail to experience the same emotions you described. A couple of thoughts i had penned down earlier

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