Whilst on a cruise to the Caribbean last year I took the opportunity of visiting as many old British cemeteries as possible. There was no way I was going to spend time on the beach or in the clear turquoise waters when there were souls waiting to be found !
In St. Lucia it was the Old Military Cemetery on Morne Fortune that I headed for. A 1925 guidebook described the journey up the hill as follows:
“A winding road ascends from Castries to the summit of Morne Fortune. It is a road made gracious by many trees, by coconut palms, by a dell or a thicket here and there, and by glimpses of the sea. All who mount this steep way will find that step by step they are carried back into the past.
This ever silent gathering place of the British is the most beautiful spot on the side of the hill. A number of graves are blackened with age. Some are of stone, others of weather-worn brick. Most of them tell the same story - the roll-call of the Yellow Death, the major of this regiment or the lieutenant of that, and so many of them mere lads.
It was in 1794 that the mortality was the highest. Of General Grey's original force of 7000 men at least 5000 perished in the course of that one year. The soldiers were badly housed and badly fed. Many were in rags. Grey wrote letter after letter to the Secretary of State but nothing was done. In the end he sent the message - "You seem to have forgotten us".
The wonderful old guidebook goes on:
“It is, and always will be, a gruesome and discreditable story. If ever, on some silent tropical night, there should be heard again on the Morne Fortune the tramp of the sentry by the barrack wall and the challenge of the guard at the outpost, and if ever the stir of human life should waken among these blackened graves, the voice that would call from the summit of the hill would utter those reproachful words, "You seem to have forgotten us".”
As I stepped into the cemetery I had no idea of what I might find. If the graves were blackened with age 85 years ago would anything remain now? I need not have feared. There were the graves standing proudly on their hillside. Some were huge edifaces surrounded with metal railings whilst others were simple slabs of granite. Many were in a very sad and sorry condition but I could see that it would be possible to obtain an inscription from perhaps a handful. I took many photographs and managed to transcribe a few actual inscriptions - the six year old son of a Sergeant, the nine year old daughter of a Sergeant, a 22 years old Ensign, the wife of a Government Administrator. Whether I could transcribe the inscription or not I was careful to place my hand on as many graves as possible - at least I had not forgotten these souls who had helped to forge the British Empire.
In the blogs below I bring you some of the individual inscriptions.