Monday, Dec 15, 2008
The grave of Sergeant Major George Symons, British Army, will receive a new grave marker, courtesy of the British government, in a ceremony today at Poplar Grove National Cemetery, located within the park.
During World War One, Symons was detailed from the British Army to Fort Lee (then Camp Lee) to train American soldiers in the bayonet drill before they went off to fight in the trenches of France. Symons died on October 8, 1918 of the flu pandemic which claimed the lives of millions worldwide. He was buried in Poplar Grove National Cemetery, his grave marked with a standard issue American grave marker. While not unprecedented, it is rare to find a foreign soldier buried in a national cemetery.
The British Commonwealth War Graves Commission contacted the Petersburg National Battlefield and asked if Symonsâ grave, whose marker had begun to deteriorate since its placement 90 years ago, could be marked with a War Graves Commission marker. Established by Royal Charter in 1917, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission pays tribute to over 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars by preserving and maintaining war memorials, monuments and grave markers around the world.
Superintendent Bob Kirby gave his approval, believing that the United States should show its appreciation for the sacrifices made by the British military and the Symons family. Since the marker is being paid for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission at the request of the British Government, Kirby felt it was appropriate to allow the grave of a brave soldier buried in foreign soil to be marked with a military stone from his own country.
On hand to witness the setting of the new grave marker were several officers from the British Army.
Petersburg National Battlefield was established in order to commemorate the campaign, siege, and defense of Petersburg, Virginia, in 1864 and 1865 and to preserve for historical purposes the breastworks, earthworks, walls or other defenses or shelters used by the armies.