A week on from the commemoration of the centenary of the Armistice of 11th November 1918, there will be a more low key commemoration in Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains. Each year a ceremony of remembrance takes place at the German war Cemetery at Glencree.
The cemetery contains the mortal remains of 134 Germans who died during the First and Second World Wars. The Wikipedia entry for Glencree tells a story as sad as that of any war cemetery:
Glencree Deutsche Kriegsgraberstatte was dedicated on 9 July 1961. There are 134 graves. Most are Luftwaffe (air force) or Kriegsmarine (navy) personnel. 53 are identified, 28 are unknown. Six deaths date from World War I, they were prisoners of war held by the British. Forty six German civilian detainees were being shipped from England to Canada for internment when their ship, Arandora Star was torpedoed by a German U-boat off Tory Island in July 1940. Dr Hermann Görtz, a German spy is also here. He committed suicide as he feared he would be handed over to the allies at the end of the war. It is administered by the German War Graves Commission (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge)
Michael Pegum’s record of Irish War Memorials shows Stan O’Brien’s commemorative poem:
It was for me to die
Under an Irish sky
There finding berth
In good Irish earth
What I dreamed and planned
bound me to my Fatherland
But War sent me
To sleep in Glencree +
Passion and pain
Were my loss my gain:
Pray as you pass
Yet a place of sadness became also a place of hope and the beginning of a new future. Glencree was the home from 1945-1950 of many of the orphans brought from the ruins of post-war Europe by Operation Shamrock, an initiative of the Irish Red Cross and the French Sisters of Charity. Ireland’s gesture of generosity was a foundation stone for a warm friendship between the Republic and post-war Germany, a friendship that was to bring Ireland many benefits in the decades that followed.
If remembrance is about a re-membering of a community, a bringing together of its diverse members, then the Glencree commemoration is truly remembrance. The facts of history militate against Germany commemorating its fallen in the way taken for granted by the nations who formed the “Allies,” yet the men who were laid to rest at Glencree, and in countless other cemeteries, were as much flesh and blood people as the Allied soldiers. There is always a poignancy in cemeteries, like the British cemetery at Tyne Cot on the Western Front, where German dead lie buried alongside their erstwhile enemies and where poppy crosses are a mark of the respect shown by British visitors to the graves.
As long as re-membering is necessary, remembrance should continue.