February 26, 2018. After visiting the graves of all the names listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion who were buried or listed on monuments in France, Belgium, and The Netherlands, we had one visit and one country left for this trip… to the Cologne Southern Cemetery, located in the Südfriedhof Cemetery in Cologne, Germany, and the grave of WWI soldier Lt. Henry Warburton STEWART.
This trip almost proved to be my undoing. After a long drive to Cologne, we finally found the cemetery, located at an intersection of tram lines in a busy part of Cologne. Pieter was in a rush to get moving after the long car ride, and sprinted ahead to find the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.
Südfriedhof Cemetery is a very large public cemetery, the largest we’ve ever been in, with many paths and turns. Only one small sign at the entrance indicates that there is a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery located here. Once inside the cemetery, we soon learned that there are no directional markers to it.
With Pieter long gone, I slowly hobbled my way on the gravel paths, trying to figure out where to go. Most cemeteries are in clear lines, but this one was like a maze. It was beautifully maintained, but quite dark and to my mind, a bit depressing. As it was a Sunday, there were many people in the cemetery. When we’d been in cemeteries in South America, many were like parks, with wide paths, park benches, and children laughing and playing. People sat on benches and visited with each other. Outside the entrance, there were kiosks selling ice cream, balloons, and flowers. Not this cemetery. It was quiet and people talked very softly to each other. Occasionally I saw people tending the graves of their family members.
It was very humid, and as I made my way, hoping not to get lost, I could feel my hair curling and frizzing. My arthritic hip was aching and walking with a cane on gravel meant moving even more slowly than usual. After close to a km of walking, I finally saw what I believed to be a sign to the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. The sign said “Graves of the Victims of the War from 1914-1918”.
I took that path and came into an area of the cemetery surrounded by hedges, making a rather dark cemetery look even drearier. To my surprise, however, the WW1 victims were German soldiers who had died during the war. It took me a long time afterwards to realize that to their families, they were just as much victims as Allied soldiers.
Only one young man was in this part of the cemetery, planting flowers by a grave. I hesitantly asked if he knew where the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery was. He looked at me for quite a few minutes and at first I thought he wasn’t going to answer, but then figured out that he was as surprised to find me in that part of the cemetery as I was. “Just follow the path and you will come to the gate for the English soldiers” he said. We wished each other a good day and I kept on.
Finally, I found the gate to the Cologne Southern Cemetery and discovered it was the back door gate, not the entrance. Pieter was waiting by the grave of Henry Warburton Stewart, and had already put down the flags and written in the cemetery register. He’d forgotten who had the camera, otherwise he probably would have already gone back to the car!
The story of Henry Warburton Stewart is a sad one, as he survived WW1, only to die of pneumonia after contracting Spanish flu in Germany, far away from his comrades. Born in Strathgartney on April 15, 1884, the son of Robert Bruce Stewart and Ann, nee Warburton, he was a civil engineer when he enlisted as a private with the 29th Battalion (Tobin’s Tigers) in Vancouver on November 30, 1914.
After serving in the trenches of France for two years, he was discharged with excellent recommendations by the Canadian Army on March 9, 1917 in England and commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Imperial Army’s 77th Siege Battery Royal Garrison Artillery. Since we have not been able to get access to the war diaries of this unit, we presume that he was sent to Germany as part of the post-occupation forces and there fell ill, dying on February 11, 1919 at No. 2 Canadian Field Hospital in Bonn. He was buried with military honours at Poppelsdorf Cemetery in Bonn.
In 1922, it was decided that the graves of Commonwealth soldiers who had died in Germany should be brought together in one of four cemeteries within Germany. Stewart was reburied in Cologne Southern Cemetery.
Unlike the portion of the cemetery where the German soldiers rest, Cologne Southern Cemetery is open and airy.
After paying our respects to Lt. Stewart, we slowly made our way back towards the car. Pieter noticed a pastry shop across the road and suggested we mark the end of our war memorial tour with a piece of cake and a cup of coffee.
So, after four European countries and 7,000 km on the rental car, the research now continues on Canadian soil. We had an amazing adventure and met many wonderful people dedicated to helping to remember the wartime sacrifices of Canadian and other Allied soldiers. We are humbled and grateful to play a small part in this.
Unfortunately, we know little about Stewart’s service in the Imperial Army as those records are not digitized and are at The British National Archives. If anyone has more information, please let us know. As well, photos are still needed for many of the names on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion. Please share your photos, comments, or stories by emailing us at email@example.com or by commenting on this blog.
© Daria Valkenburg