2017 sees some notable centenaries, and one significant centenary in 2017 is that of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, or as it was originally called, The Imperial War Graves Commission, which was established by Royal Charter in 1917.
Anyone who visits a CWG cemetery must be moved by what they see. Rows of, mainly, Portland stone headstones, the carefully tended lawns and gardens all of which pay homage to the fallen. Whatever their social background in life, in death, soldiers of whatever rank are treated equally, including those who are “Known Unto God”. The cemeteries as we now know them did not however, come into being without bureaucratic battles and the determination of Fabian Ware, sometimes called the unsung hero of the War Grave Commission. Ware ensured the graves of the fallen, hastily buried in battle, were properly recorded in order that once hostilities ended, the bodies could be reinterred.
David Crane’s book The Empires of the Dead, How one man’s vision led to the creation of the WW1 War Graves tells the story of Ware and the battles he fought to ensure that the fallen were appropriately commemorated. The gruesome task of recovering the hurriedly buried bodies from the various battlefields can only be imagined. Bodies were recovered and laid in the final resting places we know today. Ware was knighted for his work in 1920.
Crane’s book was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for non fiction in 2013.
If you follow the Commonwealth War Graves on Twitter @cwgc you may also like to follow @SirFabianWare as “he” tweets during 2017 about the lead up to the establishment of the Imperial War Graves Commission.
So whilst it seems inappropriate to wish the CWGC Happy Birthday, when it was born out of such sadness, I am sure that any relative who has ever visited a CWG cemetery or a researcher who has ever used their website, will want to thank them for the amazing work of the last 100 years, and long may it continue.