15 December 2017

CWGC volunteer shares her experience

Following the success of the Commission’s pilot volunteering scheme at Plymouth Naval Memorial and Brookwood Military Cemetery, CWGC and its new charity CWGF will be offering new opportunities to get involved in our work across the UK in 2018. Here Emma Coupe, who volunteered at Brookwood this summer while it hosted the CWGC Centenary Exhibition – For Then, For Now, Forever, talks about her experience.


Why did you decide to volunteer with the CWGC?

My job routinely takes me to Kenya where I had come across some staggeringly beautiful CWGC cemeteries. It sparked a real interest, both on a human level but also as a horticulturalist. I come from Norfolk and one of the graves I found in Nanyuki War Cemetery belonged to Nathan Osgothorpe, who served with the Royal Norfolk Regiment - I shared a moment with him, thinking about what a long way from home we were. I've never done any volunteering before so I really wasn't sure what it would involve, but having learned more about the organisation I just wanted to do something helpful.

What has been your most memorable experience?

There are so many moments I will never forget. However, on my very first day as a guide, a man from Canada came to visit his great uncle. It was the first time anyone from his family had seen him (his grave) since he left their hometown and he just sat cross-legged on the grass in front of the grave for over an hour. It was deeply moving. One Sunday, I also spent the morning with a fabulous group from the George VI Day Centre in Windsor. You never know what to expect, but it has always been rewarding.

How have you added to the experience of those visiting the cemetery and exhibition?

If just one person found who or what they were looking for a little bit easier as a consequence of my being there, then it’s been worthwhile. 

What will you take away from the experience?

I've learned to listen more. To slow down and appreciate the sense of place. To contemplate that however rubbish I've thought my week had been, it all disappears among those rows of white headstones, and glorious gardens. It's often been emotional, very occasionally a bit quiet, but never ever dull. I have loved it.

What advice would you give anyone thinking about volunteering with the Commission?

Just do it. I am no military historian and I was super nervous that people would expect me to know everything. You just need to be open to sharing time with people who often just want to share their story and for you to listen. My volunteer colleagues are a great group and everyone we've met from the CWGC has made us feel super welcome. I'm going to miss it. Oh yes, and a full tour is 4,000 steps so good for body as well as soul.

If you are interested in volunteering with us, look out for more information on the website.

Latest News

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is seeking to reunite the family of a First World War naval veteran with his medal after it was left at CWGC’s Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium.

Visitors are invited to attend a special ceremony at Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol, to mark the completion of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) restoration work to preserve grave markers and memorials to the war dead.

The 100th anniversary of one of the lesser known events of the First World War will be commemorated this weekend (25 November) at a CWGC memorial in Mbala, Zambia.