St Symphorien Military Cemetery is located 2 km east of Mons on the N90 a road leading to Charleroi. On reaching St Symphorien the right hand turning from the N90 leads onto the Rue Nestor Dehon. The cemetery lies 200 metres along the Rue Nestor Dehon.
St Symphorien Military Cemetery was made by the Germans in August 1914, after the Battle of Mons. It remained in their hands until November 1918, and has the distinction of containing the graves of some of the first and last casualties of the First World War.
The site for the cemetery, an existing but artificial mound, was the gift of local resident Jean Houzeau de Lehaie, and was laid out with great care to create the effect of a wooded garden or park.
At the highest point, there is a granite obelisk some seven metres high, erected by the Germans in memory of both German and British servicemen killed in the actions near Mons in August 1914.
Elsewhere in the cemetery there are further German memorials to officers and men of the Middlesex Regiment (Plot III), Royal Fusiliers and Royal Irish Regiment (Plot VI).
At the Armistice, the cemetery contained the graves of 245 German and 188 Commonwealth servicemen, but further graves were brought in later from the following burial grounds:
Gembloux Communal Cemetery (where 22 British soldiers were buried in 1918-1919);
Havre Old Communal Cemetery;
Spiennes Communal Cemetery;
St Symphorien Churchyard;
St Symphorien Communal Cemetery;
Wasmes-en-Borinage Communal Cemetery.
There are now 229 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in St. Symphorien Military Cemetery. 65 of the burials are unidentified but special memorials commemorate five casualties believed to be buried among them, and four casualties buried in Obourg Churchyard whose graves could not be found.
The cemetery also contains 284 German war graves, marked by headstones in a variety of different styles.
This is an exceptional cemetery. Apart from its historical burials, the meanders, hillocks, pathways and various memorials make it a remarkable place to visit.
This cemetery is popularly believed to contain the graves of the first (Private John Parr) and the last soldier (Private George Price) to be killed during the 1914-18 War.
These two casualties plus George Ellison have gone down in history as the first and last soldiers.
Private John Parr L/14196
4th Bn Middlesex Regiment
Died on 21st August 1914 aged 20
Son of Edward Thomas and Alice Rosina Parr of 52 Lodge Lane, North Finchley
Believed to be the first British battle casualty of the war
Grave: I A 10
Private George Ellison L/12643
5th (Royal Irish) Lancers
Died on 11th November 1918 aged 25
Husband of Hannah Ellison of 49 Edmund Street, Bank, Leeds
Believed to be the last British battle casualty of the war
Grave: I B 23
Private George Price 256265
28th Bn Canadian Infantry
Died on 11th November 1918 aged 25
Son of James and Annie Price of Port Williams, Kings Co. Nova Scotia
Believed to be the last Canadian battle casualty of the war and thus the last Commonwealth casualty.
(originally buried in Havre Old Communal Cemetery)
Grave: V C 4
Lieutenant Maurice Dease VC
4th Bn Royal Fusiliers
Died on 23rd August 1914 aged 24
Son of Edmund and Katherine Dease, of Levington, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath.
One of the first British officer battle casualties of the war and the first posthumous recipient of the VC of the war.
Though two or three times badly wounded he continued to control the fire of his machine guns at Mons on 23rd August, until all his men were shot. He died of his wounds.
Four Victoria Crosses were awarded that day. Dease won the first and Private Sidney Godley who took over from him the second. (Godley survived the war)
Grave: V B 2
Private Stephen Ryan 6726
2nd Bn Royal Irish Regiment
Died on 23rd August 1914 aged 33
Son of Timothy and Mary Ryan, of Cashel, Co. Tipperary
Husband of Mary Ryan, of the Green, Cashel, Co. Tipperary
Grave: II B 15
Musketeer Oskar Niemeyer
Died on 23rd August 1914
During the battle for the Mons bridges Niemeyer swam the canal in order to operate the machinery which would swing the bridge back across for his company to follow. Though successful he was killed in the process.
The old bridge has been replaced and is now the road bridge to the right of the Dease and Godley Victoria Cross railway bridge.