Work starts on Woking Horsell Common Muslim burial site

Muslim burial ground at Horsell Common
Image caption It is hoped that the first phase of work to restore the burial ground in Woking will be completed by November

Restoration work has started on a World War I cemetery in Surrey built for Muslim soldiers killed in combat.

Horsell Common Preservation Society is aiming to complete the project in time for the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WWI, on 4 August next year.

The Grade II listed structure in Woking has deteriorated over the years and been vandalised.

It is hoped the first phase of work, which has been part-funded by English Heritage, will be complete by November.

The preservation society is also hoping to plant a memorial garden at the site.

'Unique status'

John Kingsbury, Woking council leader, said the heritage site was important for people locally and for descendants of those who gave their lives in the war.

English Heritage senior designation adviser Paul Stamper said: "Its architectural interest and unique status as a site of memory for Muslims who died fighting for Britain in two world wars is recognised in its national designation as a Grade II listed structure."

David Robbins, chairman of Horsell Common Preservation Society, said he hoped the town would be proud of the "unique war memorial" when work was finished.

More than one million troops from pre-independence India fought for Great Britain during World War I.

Wounded soldiers were brought to hospitals in the South East.

Islamic headstones

Hindu and Sikh soldiers were taken to crematoriums, but Muslim soldiers did not have a burial ground until 1915. Woking's site was completed in 1917.

According to the preservation society, there were 17 burials at the site in 1917 and each was marked with a round arched headstone facing west, in accordance with Islamic tradition.

A cadet from the Sandhurst military academy was buried there in 1920, before the War Graves Commission took over the ground's upkeep in 1921.

During World War II, a further eight Muslim soldiers were interred at the site, including three from the Free French forces.

In 1968, after a spate of vandalism, all the burials were removed to Brookwood cemetery and the ground was de-consecrated.

The structure remains a Registered War Memorial.

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