29 December 2017

New challenges and the broader work of the CWGC

The Commission’s Africa and Asia Pacific Area Director Richard Hills reflects on the challenges faced by cemeteries in the area and projects completed during the year.

 

“The dedicated staff of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission work tirelessly across more than 150 countries and territories to ensure that the highest standards of maintenance are achieved at all of our cemeteries and memorials in some 23,000 locations. However, as we move further away from the end of the world wars, commemoration is far from routine and new challenges continue to appear which our staff must be prepared to deal with.

In the last 18 months, the Commission’s Africa and Asia Pacific Area, has erected new special commemorations at our Nanyuki Cemetery in Kenya and Taukkyan Cemetery in Myanmar to respectively commemorate casualties who still lie on the slopes of Mount Kenya and in a remote region on the Thailand/Myanmar border, but whose bodies cannot be recovered. In addition, the team has also completed a magnificent memorial in Nigeria (Abuja) to commemorate 2,102 casualties from the West African Regiments who today have no known grave. 

The Commission also closely monitors those sites which are more vulnerable to the changing environment that surrounds them and one such site has been Walvis Bay Cemetery in Namibia, which until last month, stood in a rapidly expanding industrial and port area. What was once a quiet location outside of the town, had become surrounded by factories, chemical plants and storage facilities which pressed against the walls of the cemetery – it no longer provided a befitting location for those that lost their lives in service and with the obvious pressure on industrial land, the future was uncertain.

The Commission’s Director General Victoria Wallace took the decision in 2016 to move the eight South African and four British Second World War casualties from Walvis Bay to a more appropriate site in the nearby town of Swakopmund and after several months of planning, our Africa and Asia Pacific Team facilitated the move and reburial. Such a project is complex and requires historical research, the involvement of the Commission’s Member Governments and detailed engagement with the Regional and National Authorities. It also requires close liaison with local stakeholders to assist with the physical exhumation, reburial and re-dedication.

Walvis Bay Cemetery (left) and the new graves at Swakopmund Municipal Cemetery (right)

On Sunday 12 November 2017, a week after the 12 reburials had finally been completed, a quiet commemorative service was held in front of the new graves at Swakopmund Cemetery to remember those who now had a more fitting resting place.

In all of the special projects highlighted here, the Commission could not have achieved its aim without the assistance of the Host Nations, High Commissions/Embassies and their Defence Attaches, veterans groups, local authorities and some commercial companies. We are very grateful for the support of all those who have contributed to our important work."

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