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A row of graves at the French-Belgian WWI memorial at Assistens Cemetery in Copenhagen, Denmark. All photos by author.

I recently visited a friend in Copenhagen for a whirlwind 40 hours, and for about an hour of that time we walked through Assistens Kirkegaard (Assistens Cemetery) in the city’s Norrebro district.

A number of graves caught my eye, but none more so than the memorial to French-Belgian soldiers of WWI.

I immediately wondered what that story was — my knowledge of WWI is not extensive, but I knew that Denmark was not the site of any battles. Reading the gravestones, I noticed all the men had died in January 1919 — two months after the war ended. What happened? While I took pictures, my friend Ben looked up the story.

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The sculpture at the memorial is quite dramatic. The arm is breaking free. The monument reads “For France, for peace.”

The men had been German prisoners. When the war ended, they were freed and sent on their way home. But many were sick and injured, so they were sent to Copenhagen first to rest and recuperate and get stronger. But while there, many died in the Spanish influenza epidemic that was ravaging the world. There was no way to send the bodies home in a timely manner, so they were buried in the city.

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Like almost all war graves, the gravestones are all the same.

How sad for them and their families. They had survived battles and survived prison camps. The war was over; they were on their way home. It makes me wonder how long the families had to wait for the information. How long before they knew their sons and brothers would never come home? I also wonder if any family members ever were able to visit the graves in Copenhagen. I hope that descendants of these men’s family trees have been able to now visit Assistens.

This thesis titled “The Danish Scheme” gives more information on Denmark’s role in repatriating WWI soldiers.

Stay tuned for more pictures from Assistens, including the graves of Hans Christian Andersen and Soren Kirkegaard.

A map of the cemetery: