The graves hidden in a garden

Tbilisi British Cemetery

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Did you know?

Location:
Tbilisi, Georgia

Altitude:
479m

Biggest Challenge:
Cemetery lost in Cold War

Language:
Georgian

Rainfall:
510mm

Temperature:
-6c - 32c

The closest you can ever get to visiting Tbilisi British Cemetery is by knocking, politely, on the door of a Georgian family home, and being guided through to their back garden.

The cemetery itself no longer exists. All that remains is a marker in this garden, installed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 2000, to record where it is believed the cemetery once stood.

Shortly after the First World War this is where 31 men’s stories ended. They were far from home, here to occupy the country on behalf of the Allied Powers while the post-war map of the world was still being drafted.

The original grave markers have all been lost to time. Access to Georgia after 1919 was impossible for the Commission due to Communist rule.

While a small group of remaining British ex-pats helped tend to the cemetery into the 1930s, the Second World War and then the Cold War made it too challenging to sustain.

CWGC was stuck at an arm’s length until well after the fall of the Iron Curtain. By the time we returned we were faced with the sprawling suburbs of Tbilisi, where there had once been an isolated cemetery.

In the interim we had not forgotten those men and their names were engraved on the Haida Pasha Memorial in Istanbul.

Despite being 800 miles away from Tbilisi it was the nearest place where CWGC could guarantee long-term continued access. The shifting borders and political instability caused by the World Wars impacted our global task long after the conflicts ended.

While world events have left us with this odd legacy of making a pilgrimage to a family garden, it’s not just the Commission’s team who visit this home. Dignitaries and relatives return every Remembrance Sunday to pay their respects after knocking, politely of course, on this Georgian family’s garage door.

The only indication of what lies in this garden is a small CWGC sign on this family's garage door.
This marker was installed in 2000 by CWGC to show where Tbilisi British Cemetery once was.
CWGC's regional manager Simon Fletcher, right, with the family who kindly allow us and others to visit the marker in their garden.
To this day wreaths are laid here as a mark of respect for the men believed to buried nearby.
By the time the Iron Curtain lifted homes and gardens had been built over the site of Tbilisi British Cemetery
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