The largest Commonwealth cemetery in Germany is the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, located deep in the ‘imperial forest’ near the historical city of Kleve. The Dutch border is less than three kilometres to the west, and Arnhem – the Dutch city so infamous for its connection to the Second World War – lies 40 kilometres to the north-west. This corner of Europe, the Niederrhein that straddles Germany and the Netherlands, was an area of fierce fighting during the later stages of the Second World War, and thousands of Commonwealth military personnel lost their lives during the battles that took place here.
Shortly after the war finished in 1945, the architect Philip Dalton Hepworth was commissioned to design a cemetery for many of those that had died in the north-west of Germany during Operation Market Garden, Operation Plunder and the other battles that took place in the region. The gravestones were to be white stone slabs, engraved with the name of the lost one, an age, an emblem representing the military unity they served in, and a short message chosen by the family. The entrance to the cemetery was to be flanked by two white stone, Moorish style towers, which would contain the names of all those buried and where their location was within the cemetery.
Following the design, a patch of land was cleared in the centre of the forest and construction began on the cemetery. The majority of those involved in the construction were German prisoners of war, under the supervision of Canadian soldiers.
In total, there are 7,672 service personnel buried at the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, 7,672 of them Commonwealth personal. Due to the number of airborne missions that took place in the Niederrhein region, there are over 4,000 pilots and air force personnel buried at the cemetery. There are also 94 graves of military personal from non-Commonwealth countries, mainly from Poland and the Netherlands.
Maintenance and upkeep of the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery is today the responsibility of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Their website can be found here.