View Full Version : Marines clean up WWI graveyard in Iraq

04-22-03, 04:20 AM
U.S. Marines Clean Neglected WWI Site

By BURT HERMAN .c The Associated Press

KUT, Iraq (AP) - For a day, U.S. Marines traded their rifles for rakes, to care for the final resting places of British soldiers who fought and died in another campaign, more than 80 years ago.

The graves of World War I soldiers at Kut War Cemetery were overgrown with tall weeds. No one has cared for them since before the 1991 Gulf War when Britain closed its embassy in Iraq.

After U.S. Marines were told of the cemetery by British journalists, more than enough volunteers stepped forward Monday to help pull the weeds and gather trash.

``It's the best way to show support to our British allies and friends, and their support means a lot to us,'' said Navy Yeoman 2nd Class Daniel White of West Valley City, Utah, one of the Construction Battalion engineers who helped clear the plots.

Children had been using the cemetery's open field to play soccer, while other residents dumped their garbage there. Nearby is the city's main market, where open sewers run in narrow canals between stalls selling Syrian chocolate, Iraqi-made cigarettes and live chickens.

The sign marking the cemetery was covered with graffiti, and an iron cross that once adorned the obelisk in the middle of the grounds was removed by Saddam Hussein's regime. Its whereabouts are unknown.

Broken gravestones litter the grounds; some near the entrance have been stacked together to form a makeshift bench. The tombstone of Lance Cpl. H.J. Gentry, of the Middlesex Regiment, lies amid a sloping mountain of trash that residents had thrown into the cemetery from a nearby alley. He died Oct. 13, 1918.

Other gravestones are inscribed in Sanskrit, tribute to the Indian troops who fought alongside the British in the Mesopotamian campaign.

The allied forces, led by Gen. Charles Townshend, thought they would make a quick advance to Baghdad. But the British-led forces were caught in a 147-day siege at Kut, where 11,800 soldiers finally surrendered to Turkish forces on April 29, 1916.

The shocking defeat was one of the British military's greatest humiliations. About 4,250 prisoners later died during the journey to Turkish prisoner-of-war camps.

British forces renewed their northern push in 1917, recapturing Kut and making it to Baghdad, about 100 miles to the northwest, on March 11. Over four years' of war, some 31,000 British and Indian soldiers had died from fighting or disease.

On Monday, Marine Capt. Peter Charboneau was marking the names and locations of gravestones on a makeshift map. Local Iraqis, some wearing the Marines' chemical weapons gloves as gardening gloves, were helping out for $2 apiece.

``We would like this to be a place of rest,'' said Charboneau, of Ticonderoga, N.Y., a controller with Marine Air Support Squadron 1. He assured residents that U.S. forces would find another place for the children to play soccer.

Hussein Kadem Zambul, a math teacher who lives across the street, said the vandalism and neglect were not indicators of any anti-Christian sentiment.

``Islam is not against Christianity. We have one God,'' he said.

He said the town's impoverished people had taken some stone and other materials from the cemetery out of dire need under Saddam's harsh rule.

``How do you expect the government to care for graves when it treated the people like animals?'' he asked.