Click the Photo above to enter the Cemetery
THE FRIENDS OF THE BRITISH CEMETERY, KEFALONIA, GREECE
This is a locally run trust to raise funds that are much needed to continue improvements to the British Cemetery and to continue with its upkeep, as over the years it has become severely dilapidated. Although subject to receipt of nominal Home Office funding, this is not a CWGC site and so is not like some of the other well maintained sites seen around the world.
The British Cemetery in Kefalonia lies just to the north end of the Drapano Bridge, on the road to Lixouri outside of Argostoli. It is the final resting place for over two hundred British Servicemen, their wives and children and to a handful of civilians who had either served with the armed forces or had made their homes in Kefalonia.
The first recorded burial in the cemetery was of Master Blackwell in 1681. Nothing is known of him and his gravesite has been lost. The next recorded burial was that of a Mr John Genaros in 1710. Mr Genaros came from a prominent merchant family of Bristol, England and his gravestone can still be seen set into the south wall beneath an orange tree.
Nothing is then recorded until 1811. This was at the time that the island was a British Protectorate, had a British Governor and administration and the British Army and the Royal Navy were in residence. Between 1811 and 1861 almost two hundred British soldiers, sailors and their families died and were buried in the cemetery. Few records are available to show why most died. However, it is now widely believed that most fell to diseases that predominantly included Cholera.
It is surprising to learn that so long ago soldiers traveled so far abroad with their families. A wander around the cemetery reveals the graves of many wives and children who died while on posting. It can be heartbreaking to see the very young ages of these wives and children.
This was all occurring around the time of Waterloo. We all recognize the name of Admiral Nelson and most are even able to conjure up his picture in their mind's eye, but few if any will recognize the names in the British cemetery in Kefalonia. They are mostly unheard of and for many years had been forgotten. Servicemen in those days were professional full timers as they are now. They joined up to defend their country and had no idea that they would end their days on what was then an almost unheard of and disease ridden island.
The British originally came to the Ionian Islands at the request of the islanders to oust the French forces that had taken over and were far from loved locally. The islanders were unhappy with the dominance of the French and sent a message to the British Mediterranean Fleet asking for help. In true British style the Royal Navy arrived and supported by Marines and without a single shot being fired ousted the French and took over the Government of the Ionian Islands. With hindsight they well may have regretted their involvement as they not only took over the government and administration but also inherited an epidemic of cholera and other similar diseases. It is little wonder that the French were so willing to leave.
The diseases on the island certainly took their toll of the servicemen and their families. Although the records available are far from accurate it is widely believed that the majority who died were victims of cholera or 'The Fever', as it was known. Even so, these servicemen led by a superb Governor at the time, Colonel Napier and other leading figures such as the Swiss Officer attached to the British Army Major De Boset diligently carried out their duties which included the building of a road network, a hospital, sewerage systems and of course the now famous 'Drapano Bridge' which is still in use today.
When the British administration left the island in the 1860s the cemetery was left to its own accord. It was almost ignored until 1917 when the British Vice Consul to Kefalonia appointed his own gardener, Mr Batista Demicola, a British Maltese subject as keeper. He received a small salary and was permitted to occupy with his family the small cottage adjoining the cemetery. He died in 1935 and was succeeded by Mr Angelo Mallias also a British Maltese subject.
In 1943 the cottage was damaged during an Italian bombing raid and was subsequently restored only to be destroyed in the catastrophic earthquake of 1953. It is likely that during the Second World War some of the gravestones were damaged and may have been completely destroyed. There are signs to this day of bullet marks on some gravestones, which may have been caused by Italian soldiers taking pot shots.
After the 1953 catastrophe the War Graves Commission was reluctant to rebuild the keeper's cottage and had also decided not to restore the cemetery, but to erect a single memorial at the site. The British Government were however, persuaded that such a course of action would go against public opinion owing to its historical and Military and Civilian connections and the cemetery was retained.
For several years the Commission had contracted a Kefalonian man to maintain the cemetery. It was very apparent that he was repeating the errors of his predecessors and had allowed the cemetery to fall into total disrepair.
A former British Army Officer, Roy E Harrison, first discovered the cemetery in 1996 while on holiday. Its condition then was appalling. It was completely overgrown and piles of rubbish lay everywhere. In October 1997, Roy Harrison moved with his family to Kefalonia. In January 1998 a member of the War Graves Commission contacted Roy and offered him the contract to care for the cemetery, which he readily accepted. On 1st April he officially took over.
On one of my visits to Kefalonia, I transcribed these graves and the details of each one are on the following pages. If there are any errors, please forgive me. The stones are many years old and many are broken or worn, or both