GENERAL DIRECTIONS: St. Symphorien Military Cemetery is located 2 Kms east of Mons on the N90 a road leading to Charleroi. On reaching St. Symphorien the right hand turning from the N90 leads onto the Rue Nestor Dehon. The cemetery lies 200 metres along the Rue Nestor Dehon.
GPS Co-ordinates: Longitude 04°00'38", Latitude 50°25'57"
Access and parking are easy, although the cemetery is quite hilly and may be difficult to walk around for some; there is also a flight of steps at the entrance to the cemetery.
St Symphorien Military Cemetery
The cemetery at St. Symphorien was established by the German Army in August 1914 as the final resting place for British and German soldiers who were killed at the Battle of Mons. Among those buried here is Private John Parr of the Middlesex Regiment who was fatally wounded during an encounter with a German patrol two days before the battle, thus becoming the first British soldier to be killed in action on the Western Front. The cemetery remained in German hands until the end of the war and also contains the graves of Commonwealth and German soldiers who were killed in the final days of the conflict, including George Ellison of the Royal Irish Lancers and George Price of the Canadian Infantry. Ellison and Price were killed on November 11, 1918 and are believed to be the last Commonwealth casualties of the First World War. In total, there are 284 German and 230 Commonwealth casualties buried in this site.
The first - John Parr - and the last casualties - George Ellison & George Price
The Battle of Mons
There were several clashes between small British and German units on the afternoon of 22 August and by that evening the men of II Corps under General Smith-Dorrien had taken up defensive positions along the Mons-Condé Canal in preparation for a major German attack expected to come from the north the next day. The opening shots of the Battle of Mons were fired at dawn on the morning of Sunday 23 August, as the men of the 4th Middlesex Regiment repulsed German cavalry who were attempting to the cross the canal via the bridge at Obourg. During the first hours of the battle, the weather was misty and wet and the British were still uncertain of the numbers of enemy units massed on the far side of the canal. By 10 a.m., the day had brightened up, enemy fire had intensified, and it became clear that they were facing a huge German force. It total, the German forces at Mons, which were commanded by General Alexander von Kluck, numbered about 6 divisions, or 160,000 men. The British force amounted to no more than 80,000.
Despite being greatly outnumbered, the British soldiers on the south bank of the canal, many of whom were reservists who had returned to the army just weeks before, fought tenaciously throughout the day. The high standard of British rifle-training ensured that an infantryman armed with a Lee Enfield .303 rifle could fire at least fifteen rounds a minute, and the attacking German soldiers suffered very heavy casualties. Despite this stiff resistance, the sheer weight of enemy numbers and the deadly accuracy of German artillery fire meant that the British were extremely hard pressed from the outset. By 10.30 a.m. the first German soldiers had crossed the canal and some British units had been forced to withdraw from their original positions. By mid-afternoon German infantry units had begun to slowly cross the canal in force and a general British retreat was underway. By nightfall most British soldiers had retired from the battlefield. The Battle of Mons, the first major engagement between British and German forces of the war, was now over and the long, hard retreat toward the River Marne had begun.
Aerial view of the cemetery
OTHER CEMETERIES CONCENTRATED INTO ST. SYMPHORIEN MILITARY CEMETERY:
Gembloux Communal Cemetery
Havre Old Communal Cemetery
Spiennes Communal Cemetery
St. Symphorien Churchyard
St. Symphorien Communal Cemetery
Wasmes-en-Borinage Communal Cemetery
VICTORIA CROSS: Lieutenant Maurice James Dease, VC, 4th Bn. Royal Fusiliers, killed in action 23/08/1914 aged 24. Plot 5 . B. 2., Son of Edmund F. and Katherine M. Dease, of Levington, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. One of the first British officer battle casualties of the war and the first posthumous recipient of the VC of the war.
Citation: An extract from "The London Gazette," dated 16th Nov., 1914. records the following:- "Though two or three times badly wounded he continued to control the fire of his machine guns at Mons on 23rd Aug., until all his men were shot. He died of his wounds."
CASUALTY DETAILS: UK 227; Canada 2; Germany 284; Total Burials: 513