Thursday, August 25, 2016

Where thousands of Civil War soldiers rest, there's a corner 'for ever England'

Headstone replacement continues at Poplar Grove (NPS photos)
British soldier died during flu pandemic

Resting among the 6,100 Union soldiers buried at Poplar Grove National Cemetery in Virginia are 50 service members who served during other wars or eras. Not all are American.

British Sgt. Maj. George M. Symons enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) in 1908, saw action early in World War I and was sent to Camp Lee in Petersburg, Va., to help train American soldiers preparing for the war. Less than two months later, on Oct. 8, 1918, he died during the influenza pandemic and was buried at Poplar Grove. Symons left no wife or children.

On Saturday, the cemetery, which is in the middle of a major rehabilitation project, will sponsor a Symons grave rededication. A niece living in Michigan (along with her daughter and grandson), a British liaison and an historian from what is now the U.S. Army’s Fort Lee will be among those attending the closed event. A new marker has corrected information about the UK soldier.

“He did not have family,” said Betsy Dinger, a park ranger at Petersburg National Battlefield, which manages the cemetery. “He does kind of have a family in the rest of us.”

With the exception of special events and public tours, such as one scheduled for this Saturday morning, Poplar Grove has been closed since November 2015. The biggest project has been the replacement of all headstones, which since the 1930s had been flat on the ground.

Nearly 4,000 upright headstones have been put in thus far, said Dinger.

Lodge walls now are violet, as they were back in 1872 (NPS)

The cemetery’s lodge is undergoing a major restoration, brick walls and other features are being repaired and sealed and the park is addressing drainage issues across the nine-acre site. Officials hope work is wrapped up this December.

“They are still working on the pointing on the brick wall,” said Dinger. “The new flagpole footing is coming along, as are the bases for the cannon which will be in the area around the flagpole.”

Poplar Grove holds the remains of several Native Americans who fought during the Civil War with Federal units, among them the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters. Members of the Menominee and the Stockbring-Munsee tribes made a visit several weeks ago.

“It was a real privilege to walk around with them and learn about their culture,” said Dinger. “I was especially moved at the prayers.  You may not know a language but your heart understands the words.”

Boundary walls are being repaired and pointed. (NPS)

Dinger has been busy preparing for Saturday’s grave rededication. She speaks fondly about Symons. “My nephew says when he comes (to visit) we have to see Uncle George.”

Dinger said a speech from a British colonel and the Fort Lee historian will reflect professional camaraderie. She expects two members of the Great War Association to wear British uniforms. “Last Post,” a UK bugle call akin to “Taps,” will be played.

Because Britain did not begin repatriation of service member remains until after World War I, Symons has stayed in Virginia.

The park ranger made reference to a stanza in “The Soldier,” written by English poet Rupert Brooke.

“If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.”

Saturday tour: The third "Hard Hat tour" of Poplar Grove is set for 10 a.m.-noon this Saturday. Reservations are necessary; contact park ranger Betsy Dinger at (804) 732-3531 ext. 208.


  1. Hi, I have noticed a lot of page views today from a Facebook page, perhaps UK based. Can someone let me know what group/page this is? Thx