Brookwood American Temporary Military Cemetery

On 13 Januari 1942, two weeks before the arrival of the first American forces in Northern Ireland, Colonel W.H. Middleswart, Quartermaster of the USAFBI (United States Army Forces in the British Isles), asked Major General Chaney to get permission from the American Battle Monuments Commision to make burials in the American military cemetery at Brookwood. The War Department replied 10 days later that the commission had granted the request.

According to the early plan, American military burials in the United Kingdom would be in the permanent cemetery at Brookwood. This cemetery, about 30 miles south of London, had been established during World War I. It contained the graves of 468 American soldiers , many of whom were victims of the Tuscania, which was sunk by a German submarine in February 1918. The American section occupied only a small portion of the 500-acre cemetery. The rest was used by the Imperial War Graves Commission as a British military cemetery and Londoners as a civilian cemetery. In September 1922 the United States government had purchased the American section from the London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company for $22,000. Brookwood was put under the jurisdiction of the American Battle Monuments Commission in 1934 and was dedicated as a national cemetery in August 1937. It continued to be operated by ABMC, which then had headquarters in Paris. After the fall of France in June 1940, the Military Attache of the American Embassy in London, Brigadier General Robert A. McClure, assumed control on behalf of the commission. Brookwood was opened to the United States forces of World War II on 18 July 1942.

GPS location Brookwood American Temporary Military Cemetery.

The Chief of the Graves Registration Service at once insisted that the original plans made for Brookwood in 1918 be put into effect. These had called for approximately 86 acres of ground, enough space for 125,000 graves. Only 16 or 17 acres, enough space for 25,000 graves, was to have been immediately developed, and the remaining acreage was to be held in reserve. When the owners of the cemetery learned of Colonel’ Middleswart’s proposal, they agreed to hold space for 125,000 graves but did not agree to any immediate expansion of the American section. They did, however, agree to turn over an extra .8 acre in addition to the acre that had already been acquired by USAFBI. This was enough space for 2,612 graves.

On 21 August 1942, the Military Attache of the American Embassy recommended that full control of Brookwood to be transferred to OQCM and was notified 3 weeks later that ABMC had approved the transaction. Immediately, the Chief of the Graves Registration Division reopened negotiations for expanding the cemetery. On 1 April 1943 the Imperial War Graves Commission asked for a final estimate of American burials. The Chief Quartermaster replied that plans provided for a minimum of 100,000 graves at Brookwood and that 62 acres would be necessary, in addition to those already being used. The commission gave assurance that this amount of land would be made available.

In July 1943, however, negotiations that had been begun by the Imperial War Graves Commission, the United States forces, and the London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company came to a standstill. The owners of the cemetery did not want to give the United States permanent burial rights, and the refused to move several civilian graves that were within the proposed area of expansion. The Imperial War Graves Commission declared that, if necessary, it would begin legislation in Parliament to get the United States the land it required.

Meanwhile, Major General John C. H. Lee suggested that the Engineer of the Southern Base Section prepare plans for the enlargement of Brookwood. Subsequently, the Engineer of the Southern Base Section wrote Major General Lee that the commanding officer at Brookwood was not certain about the ultimate plans for the cemetery and that a definite statement should be obtained from the Chief Quartermaster. The Deputy Chief Quartermaster explained that an agreement between the War Department and the British War Office stipulated that no improvements or landscaping be made without the approval of the Imperial War Graves Commission. Discussions were under way, however. As soon as decisions were reached, the Southern Base Section would be notified.

Graveside Service at Brookwood Cemetery.

Nothing more was done until August 1943. The the Engineer of the Southern Base Section submitted three plans. The first plan provided for 125,000 graves through the use of many small vacant plots scattered throughout the civilian sections of the cemetery. The second provided for 30,000 graves through the development of the plot below the Unisted States section. The third provided for 5,400 graves through the development of other plots adjoining the United States section. The Engineer of the Southern Base Section did not like the first plan because the scattered plots made a formal beautification program impossible. The only advantage of the plan was that it called for a minimum amount of labor and material. The disadvantages of the second and third plans were that they would require 165 man-months and 60 man-months of labor respectively. He suggested that the final decision be made by a board of officers from all interested agencies. Little more than a month later the Chief of Staff, SOS, ETOUSA, recommended that Brookwood be developed to provide for 125,000 graves. He emphasized, however, that the approval had been granted from planning purposes and that the additional ground would be obtained only if it was needed.

The Chief Quartermaster made repeated requests during the next 8 months for additional space at Brookwood. By Christmas 1943, when burials had been begun in the last plot available to United States forces, the requests to the Imperial War Graves Commission grew more urgent. Consequently, on 2 May 1944, enough space for 10,000 graves was made available. On 8 June 1944 the Chief Quartermaster expressed his dissatisfaction with the new area. He did not like its undignified approach, it’s nearness to ugly dwellings and also to the more elaborate Canadian cemetery, and the way it was connected with the World War I cemetery. Major General Littlejohn having agreed with the criticism, the Graves Registration and Effects Division recommended on 16 June that Brookwood be closed and all future burials be made in the cemetery at Cambridge. Consequently, on 31 August Brookwood was closed and transferred from the control of the Central Base Section to the London District of the United Kingdom Base.

Beautification plans for Brookwood called for the construction of a new access road and a memorial gateway. British architects were sent to the Continent to study the designs of the monuments that had been erected by the American Battle Monuments Commission after World War I. The architect in charge of the project wrote on 20 June 1945 that the road had been completed but that he did not believe it would be wise to build the gateway at the road entrance. “After careful consideration” he said, “I feel certain that this position is unworthy of a memorial gateway for several reasons. It is on low ground and is inclined to be waterlogged. It cannot be seen from a long distance nor from the railway. I would stress the importance of this railway for it is the main line between London and the west, carrying people hourly to and from Plymouth, Portsmouth, Southampton, and in many cases is an American ‘s first approach to London. I consider this new west road to Brookwood worthy of nothing more than a lodge, or lodges, at it’s entrance.” He believed, however, that the gateway and memorial should be erected on the higher ground to the north. “It is on the crown of a rise,” he wrote, “allowing the main layout to fall gently to the Southwest. There is, too, a slight fall to the railway… so that the memorial, as seen fro the trains, would stand amid these trees on rising ground and catch the winter sun. The other front of the memorial would face south-southeast and would look down a broad grassy avenue to a pool at the end.” He suggested that a colonnade with pavilions at each end be erected on both fronts of the memorial. This would form a pleasant place to walk or rest.

 A week later the Commanding General of the United Kingdom Base suggested that bodies from Brookwood, Lisnabreeny, and other cemeteries in the United Kingdom be concentrated in Cambridge. He believed this was essential for three reasons. First, Brookwood would need two memorials: one for the dead of World War I and the other for the dead of World War II. Second, Brookwood did not provide seperate locations for the graves of soldiers, sailors and airmen. Third, Cambridge could become the one permanent World War II cemetery in England. The War Department plan for repatriation of the dead, published on 8 September 1945, provided for the establishment of the cemetery on a permanent basis.

More pictures of the Brookwood American Temporary Military Cemetery (© Lieutenant Junior Grade John H. Hill collection):