During the Napoleonic wars, tens of thousands of French prisoners of war were held in the UK, with many of them at Chatham. Those who died were buried on the nearby marshes. When erosion started to reveal the bodies, they were exhumed and reburied on St Mary's island, and a memorial placed there. When in 1904 the Royal Navy needed to expand the Naval Base to cover St Mary's Island, the 521 bodies were disinterred again and reburied in varnished boxes next to the Naval Barracks and St George's Church (now the St George's Centre). The memorial was re-erected there, where it still stands surrounded by roses.
The engraved bronze plaque on the front of the memorial says:
THIS MEMORIAL, BUILT TO ADMIRALTY ORDER BY CONVICT
LABOUR IN 1869 AND PLACED IN THE PRISONERS-OF-WAR
CEMETERY ON ST MARY'S ISLAND, WAS RE-ERECTED HERE
IN THE AUTUMN OF 1904, WHEN A CONTEMPLATED BUT
SUBSEQUENTLY ABANDONED EXTENSION OF CHATHAM
DOCKYARD NECESSITATED THE REMOVAL OF THE PRISONERS'
REMAINS TO THEIR NEW GRAVE BENEATH IT
As you can see, the monument is on a raised piece of ground next to the church. Not surprising as there are over 500 bodies buried underneath.
I took these photographs during September 2007, after it had been raining hard. I noticed there is a white grave stone a little way to the right, away from the main memorial, but I didn't get any photos of it at the time as I didn't want to mess up the grass by trudging across it as the ground was saturated.
When I revisited the St George's Centre in December 2007, it was drier so I walked round to get this photo of the memorial and the additional stone.
The inscription on the small memorial stone says:
THIS MEMORIAL WAS LAID HERE
ON 22ND JULY 1991
TO COMMEMORATE THE REINTERMENT
OF THE REMAINS OF A FURTHER
362 PRISONERS OF WAR
FROM THE ORIGINAL CEMETERY ON
ST MARY'S ISLAND
One thing I noticed was a small white door (about 4' high) in the side of the raised piece of ground, about twenty yards from the memorial. I've also added this to my Strange Things in Chatham page.
All photographs copyright 2007 Jason Ross