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Equality and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission – the early days of a remarkable organisation

In this unit you will look at:

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The early history of the CWGC and the many problems
they had to overcome

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The principles of equality on which the CWGC was founded

 

Key

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Unimaginable numbers

Today, the CWGC takes care of the graves and memorials of 1.7 million men and women from across the Commonwealth who died in the two World Wars. In all there was a total of 1,146,918 burials. Picture these graves laid end-to-end, each one being two metres in length. The line would be about 2,300 kms long (1,438 miles). Now you have a better idea of the enormous task that the CWGC carried out then, and continues today.

  Fabian Ware

How it all began

At the beginning of the First World War, a man called Fabian Ware, too old to serve in the army, arrived in France in September 1914 to lead a mobile unit of the British Red Cross. He very soon noticed that there was no one in charge of marking and recording the graves of those killed. How distressing this was both for relatives at home and for those still fighting, to think that lives had been sacrificed and then the bodies just left to rot in some anonymous field. Fabian Ware decided to make sure this wasn’t allowed to happen.

  Stretcher bearers


Fabian Ware's job wasn’t easy! Check out the difficulties he had to overcome by clicking on the buttons here.


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Lost remains <span title - This will open a pop up window
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The task begins…

In order to comfort relatives, the Commission quickly completed some experimental cemeteries, using the best architects and garden designers to make the places ‘less miserable and unsightly.’ At Rouen, the writer Rudyard Kipling (who himself had a long association with the Commission) described ‘the extraordinary beauty of the cemetery and the great care that the attendants had taken of it, and the almost heartbroken thankfulness of the relatives of the dead who were buried there.’

Fabian Ware’s courage and commitment to an
extraordinary, enormous humanitarian task was at
last being recognised and valued.


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  Two sisters at a grave
 
   
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