The erection and maintenance of the principal shrine of our national soldiers was started in the autumn of 1915 when the German army stood on the outskirts of Riga. It was a time of disturbance when thousands of volunteers joined the battalions of the Latvian Riflemen and our first army units went to the front.
The 1st Daugavgriva Battalion of the Latvian Riflemen was the first to go the front to the fight against the Germans. In the evening of 9 October 12 officers, 819 petty officers and riflemen with four machine guns and 40 horses left the barracks and headed towards the unknown. The Battalion squadrons were seconded to the 12th Siberian Infantry Division and commanded by General Egert.
On 12 October the 2nd Riflemen Squadron which withstood the main attack lost two members: rifleman Jekabs Voldemars Timma son of Janis, and rifleman Andrejs Sturis son of Juris, during the skirmish on that day. The riflemen came under brief fire from German scouts at about 8 p.m. later that day, and rifleman Jons Gavenas son of Jons, of the 2nd Riflemen Squadron, fell during it.
The first three fallen soldiers of the Latvian Riflemen were awarded Grade 4 Cross of St. George and the rank of lance corporal posthumously.
The fallen soldiers were transferred in a sanitary division car to the Riga Latvian Society House where an army evacuation point was situated then.
The funeral was organized by the organising committee of the Latvian Riflemen Battalions who made sure that lots for the graves of the first three fallen heroes were allotted at Keizarmezs. Thus the foundations for our nation's sanctuary, the Riga Brethren Cemetery, were laid.
Although 15 October was a working day (Thursday), J.V. Timma, A. Sture, and J. Gavens were followed to the grave by thousands of people. It was one of the largest manifestations in the history of our nation. The first fallen soldiers were followed to the grave by both residents of Riga and many refugees from the regions of Kurzeme and Zemgale. People were invited to the funeral ceremony which began at the Latvian Society House by Riga newspapers. The soldiers were laid to rest by a tripe rifle salute given by their brothers in arms from the military training team at the cemetery.
After the speech Captain R. Bangerskis laid a wreath on the grave with the inscription ‘Motherland is facing times of hardship, sons must help it now.’ The wreath laid by the brothers in arms of the fallen soldiers had remarkable words written on it: ‘The thinner our lines become, the closer we shall gather round the flag’.
Compared to the victims of several wars, Latvian Riflemen killed during the fights from 1915 to 1917, more than 870 soldiers in total, account for the largest part of those buried at the Riga Brethren Cemetery followed, in chronological order, by the soldiers of our army who fell during the Latvian Independence Fights in 1919 – 1920, veterans of the fights who died in the period between the wars, victims of World War II, etc.
During the combat operations at the Riga Front in 1915 – 1917, the fighters of the Latvian battalions and regiments sustained their major losses during attacks undertaken by them. In these circumstances transferring a large number of fallen soldiers to Riga was impossible for practical purposes. Therefore the Latvian Riflemen made a field of war cemetery for their fallen comrades not far away from the battle site. Brethren cemeteries were made at Sloka and Kemeri in October – November 1915. Several graves of the soldiers were made in the parishes of Kekava and Ikskile in March – July 1916.
As the battles of the Latvian Riflemen reached their culmination, field cemeteries for the fallen soldiers were made near Lozmetejkalns, Kalnciems and in Tirelpurvs in late December of 1916 and in January 1917. A significant number of the Latvian Riflemen who fell during this stage of the battles, a total of 319 soldiers, 13 of which are unknown soldiers, were also buried at the Riga Brethren Cemetery.
As to the progress of the funeral ceremony at the Riga Brethren Cemetery, the commander of the respective battalion or regiment asked the organising committee of the Latvian Riflemen Battalions in writing to arrange for the burial of the fallen soldier and to cover the costs associated with it. Some questions – digging the grave, arranging for an honour guard, carrying the coffin, and a triple rifle farewell salute – remained the responsibility of the military unit. The committee carried out the rest of the activities required in Riga: placed an ad in Latvian-language newspapers, bought a coffin and a cross, arranged for the clergyman and musical accompaniment (a choir and an orchestra), completed various other formalities (correspondence with relatives and the riflemen unit, conduct of the procedure of the ceremony, hired a photographer etc.). All of these works were supervised by Fricis Kumins, an employee hired by the Committee, throughout the war. A farewell speech was always made by a member of the Committee management, together with the commander of the unit, at the funeral of any soldier. The clerical duties were performed by pastors of the Lutheran and the Orthodox Churches. The religious affiliation of every fallen soldier was observed strictly: Osman Ahmet Sofina, a rifleman of the 2nd Riga Regiment of the Latvian Riflemen, who was a Muslim and had fell in the military positions of 29 July 1917, was buried at the Riga Brethren Cemetery on the same day. Soldiers of other nationalities who had fought in the military units of the Latvian Riflemen – Estonians (F. Kurkus, L. Luik, E. Oots, M. Voip), Lithuanians (J. Gavenas, A. Mazuhno), Russians (J. Asiutin, N. Lopatin) and a Pole (B. Przeczewski) – have also been buried at the cemetery. The youngest known soldiers buried at the cemetery are Vilis Grinbergs (15 years old) and Emils Stamguts (16 years old), riflemen of the 5th Zemgale Battalion of the Latvian Riflemen.
Upon request by the relatives, the organising committee of the Latvian Riflemen Battalions organised the reburial of a number of fallen soldiers – K. Avotins., T. Avotins, K. Betmanis, A. Braunfelds, M. Feters, H. Krasts, J. Krastins, K. Meijers, A. Muzikants, J. Osis, K. Pravests, R. Reitmanis, E. Runga, F. Steimanis, E. Steinerts, M. Svarcs, V. Veilands, J. Zeibots, J. Zemanis and J. Ziedins – from different battlefield cemeteries at the Riga Brethren Cemetery. Cast-iron crosses were placed on the graves of the first three fallen riflemen in October 1915. The committee made this process uniform later on by using white wooden crosses of the same shape, with inscriptions in Latvian. The Latvian Riflemen got involved in the improvement of the territory of the cemetery in 1916. The entire nation took care of and arranged the shrine of their soldiers. At the end of World War I the Riga Brethren Cemetery, with its rows of white crosses and the simple Latvian design, left a lasting impression on any person.
Reference: „Rīgas Brāļu kapi 1915 – 1936 – 2011”, J.Hartmanis „Pirmajā pasaules karā kritušo latviešu strēlnieku apbedījumi”, 17. – 26.lpp./ Riga Brethren Cemaetery: 1915 – 1936 – 2011, Burials of the Fallen Latvian Riflemen in World War I by J. Hartmanis, pp. 17 – 26.