I am a huge fan of all things historical. Ever since completing my university degree in American history – with some minors in Southeast Asian history and Eastern European history - I have sought out places of historical interest whilst on my travels. Obviously, part of this has involved seeing some of the world’s most famous sights. The Forbidden City in Beijing and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul are two fantastic examples of that. However, I must also confess that I am a major fan of some of the smaller snippets of history. I love the little things that you can just stumble upon when you travel.
A great example of this was a deserted cemetery I found in Shenyang in northern China. It housed the bodies of a small group of Soviet soldiers who had been killed in the final days of WWII as the Russians advanced towards Japan. It was not in any of the guidebooks to the region and was a place I never knew existed, but I found it immensely interesting.
The cemetery in St Jean Cap Ferrat was not quite as anonymous as its Asiatic counterpart, but it contained just as much history (I realize this article may seem to have a slightly morbid tilt, but I feel the motif of unheralded history is worth more consideration). The cemetery is mentioned in most of the guidebooks geared towards the South of France with most of them lauding it for the beautiful it provides of the Alps and of the port in St Jean.
Personally, though, I found it interesting because of its contents. The vast majority of the cemetery is taken up with the final resting places of those who have lived in St Jean. As it is one of the most places in the world, some of the memorials and tombs are quite impressive. There are one or two that are as big as small houses – though not as big as any of the houses on the Cap. However, on a small ledge above the main part of the cemetery is a small military cemetery, which has some tremendously interesting origins.
The cemetery houses the remains of about thirty Belgian soldiers from WWI. As there was very little fighting in the South Of France, it seemed strange to me that you would find Belgian soldiers in such climes. As it transpired, the soldiers had been involved in fighting close to Ypres on the main front in Belgium in 1915. They were victims of a gas attack and had been sent to the South of France to recuperate in a hospital owned by the King of Belgium. Much of the contingent recovered and returned north, but a small group died and was buried in St Jean. I found it all tremendously interesting.
The cemetery in St Jean is worth the visit purely for the views of the local area. However, the little piece of history is worth five minutes of anyone’s time.