[From Manx Quarterly, #26, 1921]



In London and in many of the larger provincial towns, there are foreign quarters, there is moreover a cosmopolitan intermixing of population. In the natural order of things, the strangers within our gates die, and are buried, and have tombstones erected over them, just like the purest-blooded native inhabitants of the land. One would hesitate, therefore, before making the assertion that there is no cemetery or churchyard in the British Isle besides that at Kirk Patrick, Isle of Man, where monumental inscriptions can be seen in six different languages. And yet a churchyard which is small, normally serving the needs of a parish numbering only fifteen hundred souls, and which is odd, dating back for two hundred years, and which has nevertheless become so modernised and internationalised as to contain examples of this medley of tongues, may very possibly have attained the unique.

It all arose through the Great War, and through the establishment within a stone's throw of the little churchyard of the great Aliens Detention Camp at Knockaloe. As many as 22,000 Germans, Austrians, Bulgars, and Turks, were housed at one time in that camp during some period or other of the war, to say nothing of the 4,000 enemy aliens of the "better class" who were kept in confinement at Cunningham's Holiday Camp, at Douglas. About 130 of them died in their captivity at Knockaloe, and about a dozen at Douglas, and there is one buried at Braddan. This man died while an inmate of the Isle of Man Lunatic Asylum, which is situated in Braddan parish. All these German graves, with the exception of eight, the occupants of which, died shortly before the Armistice, are marked by tombstones, and hence it is that the collection of pious memorials which hitherto had been sculptured in English and Manx, with one forlorn little tag of Latin, has now been diversified by inscriptions in German, Turkish, and Hebrew.

German Graves in St Patrick
German Graves in St Patrick
(taken from December Page of a 1918 Calender produced and lithographed in the Camp)

Burying the Dead Germans.

Early in the Chronicle of their captivity the prisoners formed a Sick and Burial Board, consisting of elected representatives of each of the four sections into which the camp was divided. The operations of this Board included the purchase of a piece of the burial ground, the payment of the customary burial expenses, and the. provision of tombstones over every one of the graves. Most of the graves, of course, cover the bodies of several men — men unrelated by any tie except that of common nationality and common misfortune. Some of the tombstones contain five names, some four, some three — though in certain cases the relatives of the deceadants have handed money over for the purchase of an entire grave and the erection of a separate memorial It must be borne in mind that the inmates of these camps in the Isle of Man were civilian prisoners, many of whom wets placed under arrest on the first day of the war. Many had lived in Britain all their lives, many were men of high commercial and social standing, and it was an uncommon incident for a British soldier in khaki to obtain leave to attend the funeral of his alien father. The tombstones, with the exception of two or three of the first which were erected, and which were consequently erected before a uniform design had been decided upon, and with the further exception of the one tombstone which covers the seven Turkish graves, and of the Jewish tombstones all lie flat. They are all the work of a local sculptor, Mr Christopher R. Shimmim, member of the House of Keys, and the gentleman who carved out inscriptions in unknown characters like the Turkish or the Hebrew, knowing that the slightest twitch of the arm while using the graving-tool might give the inscription an entirely different sense, or might make useless the whole costly piece of stone, must be regarded as a craftsman of exceptional skill.

The Turk and the Jew.

The grave of the Turks consists of a square-railed enclosure containing two rows of four grave-spaces each. One of these spaces is vacant. A large upright stone, of a beautiful whiteness, overlooks the enclosure, and is inscribed with the names of the seven men who lie underneath. The inscription is surmounted by the usual emblem of the Crescent and Star, and it gives the name and date of death of each of the deceadants, while towards the foot of the monument is a motto expressing the aspiration that the deceadants may rest in paradise. Each of the separate spaces is marked by a little wooden memorial containing the name of the person resting below — Abu Hussein, Ali Memel, Ramadan Mahomet, and so on — ,and containing details in German, and in the ordinary Roman characters, of the date of birth and death.

Adjoining this Turkish grave-space are two or three Jewish graves, inscribed in the Hebrew character. In one case, that of Herman Jeschke, half of the inscription is in Hebrew and half in German.

" Give Peace in our Time, O Lord."

The graves of the 120 odd Germans are all adorned with passages from the Bible. They use all short passages, for the Burial Board had to consider economy, and they, therefore, made a selection ofthe shortest texts which seemed to them to be generally suitable. There is no special individual relevance in most cases, because, as has already been stated, the men are often buried four or five in a grave. But them is sometimes a general relevance, and it is difficult to reed some of these inscriptions, or to hear them translated for one's benefit, without feeling the dint of pity. One can imagine the bitterness of soul which inspired the choice and this repetition of such passages as " I have caused thee to rest from all thine enemies" (2 Samuel, vii, 11), or "They that saw in tears, shall reap in joy," "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted," "Let every man return to his own house in peace," "We are perplexed, but not in despair," and "The Lord will bless his people with peace."

Soldiers and Aliens side by side.

Sentimentalising over the country's enemies, you say? One would not spare a sigh for any of theme if by so doing one cheated a British soldier of a sigh, and one is quite prepared to question whether the friends of an Englishman who had died in a German camp would have been permitted to place over his remains that quotation about the Lord giving him rest from his enemies. And yet — the man who hit upon that text may have lived in England all his life, may have never had the smallest desire to do England harm, and may have been taken from his home and business and dragged to the other end of the country at a minute's notice. If one were wandering through any other churchyard, one would not read without emotion such inscriptions as "Here rests, far from his home, Robert Peltzer......... Erected by his friends and compatriots," or this legend at the bottom of another memorial, "He was a good comrade." One or two of the inscriptions are actually in English throughout, and there is a stone which covers the remains of William Brown and William Howard. And it does not seem altogether a sacrilege that directly adjacent to these tombstones should be thirteen stone crosses erected " To the Glory of God, and to the memory of the following soldier who died in the service of King and Country — " with the name of some member of the Royal Defence Corps who died while guarding the same camp in which these aliens' were interred. One of these crosses denotes the grave of Pte. Michael Carroll, who was drowned in the torpedoing of the passenger steamer "Leinster," and elsewhere in the churchyard are interred the bodies of two unknown women, washed up on the Patrick coast, who were lost from the same vessel. A similar tragedy of the sea is commemorated by a cross bearing the inscription, "British — Un-identified. Date of Burial, 27/2/18." And in the days to come, when the natural passions aroused by the great world conflict have subsided, our descendants will probably look at the graves of the German prisoners and of the British soldiers, and reflect that they were all alike sharers, and to a great extent involuntary sharers, in sorrow.

An Abandoned Project.

On has different feelings, however, towards a proposal, the execution of which was interrupted by the sudden closing of the camp. The Burial Board aforesaid had designed to erect a large and costly mausoleum at the entrance to their particular portion of the churchyard, built to a considerable height and containing circular seats for the ease of passers-by. Such an erection would have dwarfed everything else in the place, and would have given to this quiet little British churchyard a distinctively foreign tone. The last has been heard of that proposal, and one is glad.

The Unregarded Poor.

There is pathos of an entirely different character in the contemplation of a line of twenty-two graves, which lie between the last row of the German tombstones and the footpath. One supposed on seeing these graves that they also contained the bones of alien prisoners, but one learnt on inquiry that this was the strip of ground reserved for the burial of the poor. Not a stone marks any of them, and until the Germans began to tend the resting-place of their own dead, these graves had been so utterly uncared-for that the passer-by could hardly distinguish one from another.

They that Wear Victorious Palms.

A feature of many of the German tombstones, particularly those which relate to one deceadant only, is that they are marked with a symbol that looks like a set of feathers. — This symbol is the best that can be done in stone to represent the palm of victory, a sign for which the Germans have a particular attachment. It is noteworthy, too, that the date of birth on a German tombstone is usually indicated merely by a star, and the date of death by a dagger.

A Varied History.

The original parish church of Patrick was situated on Peel Islet, on the spot which is traditionally associated with a sojourn made in the Island by the saint himself. For a considerable period, however, the living was held in conjunction with that of German, and it was not until 1741 that a church was erected inland, and the pariah was formally separated from German. Captain Silvester Radcliffe, of " Knock-Ally-Moor," and his son Charles Radcliffe, and their wives, gave land for the building of the church, which land, by the way, just missed including the site of an ancient keeill, recorded as Keeill Crore. In 1879, however, a scheme was set afoot to replace the old parish church by a building situated in the neighbourhood of Glenmaye, and to furnish the burial ground with a mortuary chapel. The mortuary chapel was duly, built, but the new parish church never materialised, and within quite recent years an Act was passed conferring upon the mortuary chapel the status of a parish church.

The Manx Inscriptions.

The four inscriptions in Manx which are to be found in Patrick Churchyard have already been publicly recorded by Mr E. E. Fournier D'Albe, of Brittany, who visited the Island in 1901, and made an examination of the various burying-places of the Island for this express purpose. His selection was not quite a complete record at the time it was published, and the number of such inscriptions has somewhat increased in the intervening twenty years. The Manx inscriptions in Patrick (two of which are quite conspicuous as one wanders through the churchyard) consist of two passages from Scripture, and verses out of two of Wesley's hymns as translated into Manx. One is from the well known hymn, "How happy, every child of grace," and the other from the now obsolete "O lovely appearance of death."

Pointing the Moral and Adorning the Tale.

The wanderer through the churchyard will find in Patrick, as in most other burial grounds, a few epitaphs sufficiently curious to attract attention. This, for example, is the legend which adorns the tomb of Alice Clowin, who died in February, 1829: —

My mother dear, that lieth here,
And we feel for her Borry [body?],
Great is the loss that we sustain,
But we hope to meet in glory.

3 of her children are gone before,
5 yet are left behind her
We hope to travel hand in hand
Till the 8 will meet around her.

The sorrowing husband or wife usually believes in providing the passer-by with sermons in stones. In Patrick, as in almost every churchyard do the land, one receives such a pious exhortation as —

Stop, traveller, as thou passest by;
As thou art now, so once was I ;
As I am now, so shaft thou be;

or —

This mouldering heap of bones which now you see,
Is all I am, and all the proud shall be.

Equally minatory is the inscription to the memory of Mary Ward, who died at Rhewby-beg, in 1842: —

She knew her sins forgiven,
While living on this earth;
Friend, thou can never get to Heaven
Without the second birth.

But the sprightliest of them all is one which commemorates the death of an infant child : —

When the archangel's trump shall sound,
And souls to bodies join,
There's millions then will wish their lives
Had been as short as mine.

No doubt it's true; but doesn't it send the shivers down one's back ! The theme of the advantage of drying young is expounded for the benefit of those who pause to gaze on the grave of Catherine Moore, daughter of Philip and Jane Price, who died at the age of five years and nine months.: —

Beneath this stone the little infant lies,
Free from the anxious miseries of life.
Sleep on, sweet innocent ! Thy lot's a prize.
To leave this world of folly, care, and strife.

But why should the sweet innocent have been troubled with entering such a world at all ? And while one fully realizes the tragedy of the story of a baby which has been ailing from its birth, one wonders what can have been happening, before Death mercifully intervened, to William, son of Paul and Elizabeth Kermode, of Ballacallin : —

The rose on this deserted cheek
Shall never bloom again;
For youth is fled, and less by time
Than sorrow torn away.

The person to wham this melancholy inscription relates was aged two years, and three months! An inscription directly behind it, relating to a young man of twenty-one, who might conceivably have endured enormous sorrow, and might have been the sad witness of the flight of his own youth, is fair loss lugubrious : —

See, from the earth the infant lily rise,
It springs, it grows, it flourishes and dies.
So this frail flower scarce flourished for a
Short was the bloom, and speedy the decay.

The affectation of sudden surprise is as pronounced in this case as is the affectation of patient resignation in the ease last quoted. And yet, how easy it is for each of us to be affected, and to believe that we are sincere ! Which among you casteth the first stone? But one can respect the simple brevity of the mourners over the bier of John Quane, of Ballahutchin : —

Time, how short I Eternity, how long !

A characteristic of all Manx churchyards is the recording of both the maiden and married names of a woman — thus, " Mary Belly, alias Quayle, wife of John Kelly." But the return by a widow to the use of her maiden name, as in the following instance, is out of the common

Here lieth the body of John Quayle, son-in-law of William Killey, who perished in the herring fishery November 6th, 1781, aged 23 years. To whose memory this stone was erected by Margaret Killey, his widow.

An All Too Common Record.

Records of death at sea are not unusual in Patrick, or in any other Manx churchyard. Not far from the grave just referred to is that of John Knickal, who perished at sea on the 5th October, 1781, and was buried on the 29th. Rushen churchyard, above all others in the Isle of Man, is noteworthy for the frequency of inscriptions of this kind, just as Lonan and Foxdale, which are situated in mining districts, contain all too many, memorials to men from the parish who died in South Africa, or in Ishpeming or Butts or other great mining centres in the United States, while they were still under forty — often enough while they were under thirty.

Honouring a Dead Governor.

Colonel Cornelius Smelt was Governor of the Isle of Man from 1805 to 1832, and evidently the family of the late Mr John Kelly, advocate, of Peel, had an admiration for this soldier-statesman in miniature. An infant child of John and Margaret Ann Kelly, who is buried in Patrick, bore the name of Cornelius Smelt, and when after the lapse of a few years Providence again blessed Mr and Mrs Kelly with a son, the also was christened Cornelius. Cornelius is not a name commonly in favour in the Island, and one wonders if certain people now living in the Island who bear that name, received it in honour of the former Governor or in honour of a father or grandfather who received the name for that reason. Another curiosity in Patrick Churchyard is a tombstone to the memory of a man named Jonah-Jonah Quirk, of the Kiarro Dhoo, who died in 1797.

Churchyards Ancient and Modern.

It is difficult for the youngest to enter a modern churchyard without experiencing poignant emotion. It seems only yesterday, to the present writer, when the plot that is now the Douglas Borough Cemetery was common agricultural land, and already the space has become so filled up that one cannot gaze from the high-road on to that ghastly city of the dead without shuddering. And when one walks through it — well every row contains the graves of persons whom one know in the flesh, many of them contain the grave of someone with whom one was familiarly acquainted, and some contain the grave of someone whom one held in admiration and regard. But it is the number of them that appalls, that multiplies in one's mind the tragedy of love and loss, that brings the grave terrifyingly near to oneself, that makes it appear that the most real thing in life is death. Until that day comes when that churchyard represents all that is left of someone whose life has been closely bound up with one's own, one would never of one's unrestrained choice enter the place. But far other thoughts have play when one enters an old churchyard. More, one is solemn, but not sorrowful. As nature covers the ugliest ruin with greenery and converts it into an object of ultimate beauty, so Time has softened the ghastliness, and one realizes that the life of any one man or any one generation is an infinitesimally small thing as compared with the roll of the ages. One becomes capable of believing, with the poet, that it is our birth, and not our death, which is a sleep and a forgetting; one may become humbly willing to surrender one's individuality utterly and for evermore, and to vow that "if an endless sleep He wills, so best."

P. W. C.

Note only the Jewish and Turkish graves remain - in the 1962 the remains of the German Internees were removed and re-interred at Cannock Chase, the gravestones were destroyed.


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HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2002