We are in the suburb of Talence and looking at a sign outside a small, carefully-tended plot of land at the end of a cul-de-sac, Rue Bahu...

From the Allied War Cemetery of Talence (to the fields of Flanders)

We are in the suburb of Talence and looking at a sign outside a small, carefully-tended plot of land at the end of a cul-de-sac, Rue Bahus. The sign reads “Commonwealth War Graves” although a more precise description would be “Allied War Graves”.

The tiny cemetery, which is located next to Talence’s municipal graveyard, is the final resting place for 18 men: five Americans, ten Canadians and three Britons (or Australians).

Wooden crosses mark the graves of the five Americans, who died at various dates between 1918 and 1945: Edward Simacys (1918), Anton Rivas (1919), Abraham Hamde (1920), Charles Carroll (1928) and Joseph Bouchard (1945).

Some mystery surrounds who the men were. Some sources claim the five men died when their plane crashed in the Landes forest but that seems inconceivable given how the deaths were spread out over a 27-year period. The US consulate in Bordeaux recently stated they would be investigating the background of the five men to establish who they were and how they passed on.

The row of graves opposite them are occupied by victims of the First World War but again the information is sketchy at best. Certain sources state that the ten Canadian soldiers, whose headstones feature a maple leaf, were employed as medical staff in makeshift wartime hospitals in and near Talence (within the premises of Victor-Louis and Saint-Genès secondary schools, and a nursing school).

However, most were members of the Canadian Forestry Corps who would more likely have been out chopping down trees, again in the forests of the Landes. This unit, which was created in November 1916 and disbanded in 1920 (it was reformed in 1940 then disbanded again in 1945), comprised of Canadians employed to cut down forests in the UK and France to produce wood needed for use on the Western Front. Further sources suggest that the Canadians and their British (and/or possibly Australian) counterparts were killed during a mine clearance operation in the Gironde Estuary… It’s all rather vague! 

Completing the picture is a memorial in the shape of a Celtic cross which sports the names of men who died in both world wars. This cross was previously positioned in front of the St Nicholas English-speaking Anglican church on Cours Xavier-Arnozan in central Bordeaux (the church closed in 1989 - it had been operational since 1840).

Sadly, the cemetery is not usually open to the general public (I made use of a telephoto zoom lens to get many of the shots featured here), although once a year, on the Sunday which is closest to November 11th, solemn commemorations led by the Royal British Legion are held here. A bagpipe player breaks the silence and it has become customary for the poem “In Flanders Fields” to be read aloud. The words were written by the Canadian military doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae in 1915 shortly after he had conducted the burial of a friend from the same unit who was killed near Ypres:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
  • Find it: Rue Bahus, Talence.
  • If you have more precise information about this cemetery, do get in touch and I will gladly edit this article!

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