Humanitarian unity still alive at this war cemetery in Pune
Built in 1914, the Kirkee War memorial houses symmetrically aligned gravestones spread across thirteen plots.pune Updated: Jul 13, 2017 16:06 IST
At the heart of the bustling Pune city resides an open expanse where the hubbub suddenly dies into a serene silence. Minutes into the Mula road, near Khadki cantonment, a whiff of tranquillity fills the air once you arrive at the Kirkee War Cemetery, also known as the British World War Memorial.
Built in 1914, the memorial houses symmetrically aligned gravestones spread across thirteen plots. In total, the cemetery holds 1,668 Commonwealth burials, one Polish and one American burial of soldiers martyred in the Second World War. Further across the stretches extending to the Cross of Sacrifice, stand 629 unmarked graves of First World War servicemen. In addition to that, seven non-war burials have also found their place at the picturesque cemetery.
The cemetery was initially built to commemorate the servicemen and women who lost their lives during the world wars and were buried in civil and cantonment cemeteries in India and Pakistan, but whose graves could not be permanently maintained after the 1947 independence. Almost 200 East and West African servicemen, who were martyred in the non-operational zones in India, during the Second World War and their graves could either be not located or were situated in areas where maintenance was not possible, have also been commemorated at this memorial.
Stories linger on to every gravestone,canopied under the bougainvillea shrubs. Dead soldiers from all parts of the world, some from Africa and Europe, and across all religions, martyred during the British raj, lie beneath those grounds, all together.
A quick stroll past the gravestones, reveal interesting epitaphs of soldiers who lost their lives to the wars young in their 20s, and many who passed away late in their 50s. While some epitaphs bear the Star of David for Jewish soldiers, some have Islamic bearings for the Muslim soldiers.
A stretch further revealed a line of grave stones with Buddhist Pagodas, in memory of the Buddhist and British Soldiers who lost their lives to the wars in Burma. At the plot bearing the First World war soldiers, every grave bears the mention of the regiment, and the Royal Regiment Insignia.
While grave-trotting, one can even spot gravestones of prominent members like George Wittet, architect of the Gateway of India, or Frederick William Stevens, who designed the Victoria Terminus, now known as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus railway station. Even the graves of erstwhile mayor of Bombay Joseph Baptista, and poet Dom Moraes, lie at the same cemetery.
Tucked away in the interiors of the city, the structure, stands to this day symbolising humanitarian unity beyond all boundaries of race, religion or language.