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Photographer: Benjamin J. Hatherell

Noyelles-sur-Mer Chinese Cemetery

Gazetteer No. G0752


Address Noyelles-sur-Mer, Somme France


The cemetery lies on a slightly sloping piece of ground just outside the village of Noyelles-sur-Mer, amidst meadows at the end of a semi-hardened road. A typical feature of the cemetery is the Chinese character that assistant architect Truelove was able to give to the cemetery within the strict preconditions of the IWGC. This quality is not restricted to the entrance and the characters on the headstones, but is continued in the greenery.

Noyelles-sur-Mer was the home depot of the Chinese Labour Corps in France, the location of its largest camp and of the third Labour General Hospital. The Chinese Labour Corps was the outcome of a treaty that was concluded between the United Kingdom and the Chinese government on 30 December 1916, for the employment of Chinese workers in France. The men were recruited in Northern China and the first contingent arrived in France in April 1917. At the end of 1917 there were 54,000 Chinese in France and Belgium. At the end of the war, the Corps had grown to almost 96,000, and even in May 1919 there were still 80,000 people at work. Almost 2,000 Chinese died during the war and when the cemeteries were constructed the headstones were furnished with Chinese characters, applied by a select group of their comrades. Within the cemetery, the Noyelles-sur-Mer Chinese Memorial was installed to commemorate 41 Chinese whose graves could not be found. Graves of Chinese soldiers can be found at various other cemeteries. They are generally buried at the sides of the cemetery to avoid any confrontation with the Cross of Sacrifice. There is a smaller Chinese cemetery, which also accommodates Indian graves, in Ayette, between Arras and Albert: Ayette Indian and Chinese Cemetery.

The Chinese character is immediately evident at the entrance. The entrance gate is completely different from the normal classicistic gateways usually applied by Lutyens. It was inspired by Chinese architecture and furnished with Chinese characters. Lutyens sent his assistant architect to a Chinese warehouse in London in order to gain inspiration. Due to the Chinese having a different religion, there is no Cross of Sacrifice at the cemetery. A large pine tree was planted to replace this central element. At the foot of the tree, greenery has been planted in a circular form, with a semi-circular seat around this. The entrance is flanked by two cedars, which are intended to give the cemetery a somewhat oriental ambience.

The graves of plot 1 are situated furthest away from the entrance and are spread over the entire breadth of the cemetery. Some of the graves are laid out in pairs, with the headstones next to one another. The other plots lie on either side of a central path that leads to the central sitting location.

The cemetery is surrounded by a wall that curves inward at the entrance. This undulating motif, which recurs in the design of the entrance gate and the lintel above the gateway, is emblematic of the deviating character of the cemetery. The wall makes a number of jumps as it ascends to the highest point, the southwest corner of the cemetery. Head- stones have been incorporated into the wall at the entrance side, and these commemorate Chinese soldiers whose bodies were not found. A remarkable feature of this is that headstones were used for this function rather than a plaque with a list of all the names. This was probably due to the relatively small number of missing soldiers and the exceptional nature of the cemetery.

At two places, the paths between the rows of headstones have plants on either side in order to break the monotony of the cemetery. The greenery at the back of the stones could be higher because there it does not impede the reading of the inscriptions on the stones. In the west corner of the cemetery there is an unusual and exceptionally pruned tree directly behind the last headstone.

Two other details are also remarkable. The catch of the gate is decorated in Chinese style and there is a pinecone above the gate. In this case, this is very appropriate because the pine tree was chosen as a central element to replace the Cross of Sacrifice with the aim of giving the cemetery a more oriental atmosphere. However, it seems as if Lutyens may have had an influence here. In his work, the pinecone is a recurrent symbol of eternity and immortality. He had become familiar with the symbol in Rome, where he saw a large bronze pinecone in a vase, flanked by two peacocks, in a courtyard in the building complex of the Vatican. In 1918, Lutyens placed pinecones on the pylons of his unrealized design for a memorial in Hyde Park, and applied the idea once again, this time with success, at the memorial monument in the form of a triumphal arch in Delhi. In this latter case, four pinecones were placed in urns as a symbol of birth and death. (Geurst, 2010, pp.374-5)


Geurst, J. (2010) Cemeteries of the Great War by Sir Edwin Lutyens. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers.

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Imperial War Graves Commission