25 April 2024

Eclectic France

Observations on the sites, sounds and events around France

History

A Corner of France Forever Dutch

Northern France is dotted with reminders of the two world wars and you are never far from a memorial. Mostly these are cemeteries and monuments for the French and British Empire service personnel killed during those wars. But in a quiet spot next on the D1017 between La Chappelle-en-Serval and Pontarm√© you’ll find something unique: the only second world war cemetery in France dedicated to men from The Netherlands who served and died during the Second World War. Known as Orry-la-Ville Field of Honour, the cemetery contains the graves of 114 soldiers and airmen.

Gravestones in the Second World War Cemetery at Orry-la-Ville.
The gravestones have a simple design reminiscent of those found in British Empire cemeteries.

The style of the cemetery has more in common with its British counterparts than its French. The pale gravestones have a similar shape and appearance – upright and squarish – to those found in British war cemeteries. They incorporate a military badge above the serviceman’s name, rank, date of birth and death, and a simple epitaph.

The graves are in straight rows and surrounded by lawns, flower beds, and shrubs. If it weren’t for the names and the Dutch and French flags flying it could easily be mistaken for one of the many Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries in northern France.

At the rear of the cemetery is a large sculpture in the middle of a lawn. This acts as the focus and centrepiece of the entire site. To its side is a cenotaph with stone memorial panels listing 108 Dutch servicemen. Buried elsewhere, they also served and died in France during the Second World War.

Rows of gravestones in the Second World War Cemetery at Orry-la-Ville.
Gravestones separated by flower beds, shrubs and lawns.

Looking at the gravestones you can see that the age of the men ranged greatly. The eldest was born in 1868. He would have been classed as a veteran during the First World War, let alone the second. The youngest few, born in 1926, were still in their teens when they died. It is strange to think that all of these men died over 80 years ago, but a few might still be alive today if they had not paid the ultimate price of war.

Like any cemetery for the First or Second World War, Orry-la-Ville has that peculiar mix of tranquillity and beauty that is a counterpoint to the horrors behind its existence. It’s well worth a stop-over for anyone on their way to one of the area’s historic sites. The town of Senlis, just up the road, has many connections to the First World War.