Service marks Horsell Common Muslim cemetery restoration

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Muslim burial ground at Horsell Common
Image caption,
The cemetery renovation should be completed by 4 August 2014

A prayer ceremony has been held to mark the beginning of renovation works on a World War I cemetery in Surrey built for Muslim soldiers killed in combat.

The project to restore the Muslim Burial Ground in Horsell should be completed by the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WWI, on 4 August 2014.

Work on the Grade II listed structure near Woking is being undertaken by the Horsell Common Preservation Society.

Once restored, it will be used as a garden of peace and remembrance.

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

Round arched headstone

The ceremony was led by Imam Asim Hafiz, Muslim Chaplain to the British Armed Forces, and Reverend Ian Brackley, the Suffragan Bishop of Dorking.

Leader of Woking Borough Council, John Kingsbury, who also attended the event on Thursday, said the heritage site held significance "not only locally but also for the descendants of those who gave their lives in the First World War".

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

Image caption,
The prayer service was led by Imam Asim Hafiz and Reverend Ian Brackley

Wounded soldiers were brought to hospitals in the South East.

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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