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Military Cemetery (Warsaw, Poland)

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Military cemetery in Warsaw, Poland.

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      12.07.2012 10:38
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      Areally uplifting experience

      I think I may have mentioned before that the area of Warsaw where I live is close to several cemeteries. At least three or four are within walking distance which is good for me as I prefer to walk everywhere than catch a tram or a bus especially in summer as public transport can become oppressive.

      A few weeks ago I was feeling a bit fed up and decided to go and find Cmentarz Wojskowy. You probably think that a visit to a cemetery isn't a good idea if you are feeling cheesed off but I usually find it does the trick and uplifts my spirits. I had a rough idea of where the cemetery was situated and as it seemed a straight forward walk, off I went dressed in all my winter clothes.

      By the time I reached the traffic lights at ulica Powazkowska I was overheated and wished I'd left half of my attire at home. This long street isn't in the best of areas; it's run down and busy with traffic. While I was stood on the bridge looking at the railway tracks I suddenly got a whiff of freshly baked bread. Goodness knows where the smell came from because as far as I know there aren't any bakeries on this road. Still, I welcomed the evocative aroma. It reminded me of my childhood when I used to visit my grandparents in Wales and every morning walked across the fields to the village bakery. There is something special about the smell of yeast rising in a hot oven.

      The walk from the bridge to the cemetery turned out to be a lot longer than I had envisaged. I was pleased to see the flower stalls outside the huge concrete walls which were so high that I couldn't see any grave stones until I walked through the main gates. Here at the entrance is a map of the cemetery and a list of regulations of what you can and cannot do whilst inside the walls.

      Cmentarz Wojskowy is a military cemetery and was founded in 1912. Although, at the time the cemetery was built so Orthodox Russian soldiers could be buried there. After Poland became independent the cemetery was officially made into a military cemetery. Amongst the many hundreds of graves you will see soldiers' names that fought in World War I and took part in the Warsaw Uprising.

      I immediately noticed how well organised the cemetery was. The main path is paved, wide and free of leaf debris. Avenues leading from the main artery of the cemetery are well maintained with small paths; some smooth and others undulating where tree roots have slipped underneath forming a bumpy ground.
      I think it was a Tuesday morning when I visited and I was surprised to see so many people attending to graves. It is funny how there is always a blanket of silence at a cemetery even though there are other noises in the air. I could hear bird song as sparrows and blue tits hopped from branch to branch. The noise from the road wasn't too loud; sounds of cars were muffled as they sped past the cemetery walls. Another sound I heard which I found quite evocative was the scraping of leaves and loose soil as attendants tended pathways with fan shaped rakes.

      The variety of gravestone styles is quite remarkable and I was fascinated by the different designs of crosses. Some were very simple, made from one single piece of wood; others were solid and made from concrete. I spotted a design that was an outline of a cross, like a piece from a jigsaw puzzle. Some had red and white ribbons wrapped around the headstones, others had helmets perched on top with writing underneath telling me names, ages, regiments, places where soldiers had died. Some men were as young as 20 when they were shot dead or blown up. These numbers stood out and made me feel sad. Twenty is such a young age to die.

      A large group of teenagers with their school teachers stood huddled in a circle around the Katyn Cross and memorial grave. Very few of the young faces looked interested as their teachers told them about what had happened at Katyn. They fidgeted and looked terribly bored. As I observed these young people my heart felt heavy. They were obviously disinterested in their countries history and from what I could see they didn't find a morning out at the cemetery a very exciting thing to do. The fact that hundreds of young men who weren't much older than themselves were buried in the earth around where they were stood hadn't even crossed their mind. I suppose there is no reason why they should find the experience interesting just because I do. We are all different.

      As I proceeded to the gates I looked back at the cemetery. The highlights for me were the pieces of land that only had bare scrapings of soil covering the many graves and rows and rows of single crosses made from solid branches of Silver Birch trees tied with knotted wire. The sun was out although it was a chilled version and hadn't warmed up at this time. Very few leaves were on the trees surrounding these simple graves. This was good because the sun's rays beamed through on to the wooden crosses and bare ground casting haunting shadows that will stay with me for quite a while.

      I'm glad I walked to Cmentarz Wojskowy. Walking back over the railway bridge the aroma of rising bread again floated above my head and into my nostrils. I felt uplifted and ready to take on the day and the weeks that lay ahead.

      You can find Cmentarz Wojskowy on Powazkowska 43/45, Warsaw 07-797.

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