16 April 2018

First World War Tommy visits new Commonwealth exhibition at Brookwood

As the Commonwealth Heads of Government meet in London to discuss the future of the historic union; the CWGC takes a look into the past with its new exhibition Brookwood: The Commonwealth Story – which will this week feature a poignant reminder of the sacrifice of communities from around the world.

On display at the exhibition is a life-size aluminium silhouette of a First World War soldier, which is part of the There But Not There project conceived by the Remembered charity. This is a nationwide art installation which seeks to highlight the absence of those who did not return from the Great War through a series of haunting figures placed in churches and communities across the UK. All money raised through the project is donated to six military charities of which The Commonwealth War Graves Foundation (CWGC’s charitable arm) is one.

With more than 5,000 Commonwealth war graves, Brookwood Military Cemetery is the largest CWGC Cemetery in the UK and is the final resting place for service personnel from Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK and Ireland. More than 1,600 are from the First World War.

This includes Canadian Nurse, Sister Sarah Ellen Garbutt. Born in Yorkshire but raised in Ontario, Canada, Sarah came to the UK in 1917 as part of the Canadian Army Nursing Service. Within her first month she was diagnosed with abdominal cancer and died shortly after, aged 41. While Sarah did not die directly in action her service and contribution continue to be recognised by CWGC, where her body remains in Surrey far away from home.

Julian Evans, CWGC’s Director of International and Community Engagement, said: “With the UK set to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2018, we felt it was important to recognise the contribution of those from across the Commonwealth commemorated by CWGC. The two World Wars saw the coming together of a global community, fighting with a common purpose. We care for and commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice and were unable to return home to their loved ones. The Tommy silhouette is a poignant reminder of this.”

“The Brookwood exhibition gives a very timely exposition on the stories of those who travelled a long way from home to serve the Commonwealth and never returned. We are honoured to have our Tommy be a part of it.  We are excited to be working with the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation to keep the stories of these people alive and hope communities around the country will join us in doing so over this crucial centenary year," Henny Cochrane, Director of Communications and Fundraising at Remembered.

Glyn Prysor, CWGC’s Chief Historian, said: “Brookwood Military Cemetery perfectly encapsulates the contribution of people from across the Commonwealth in the World Wars. Behind every headstone is a life, and we’re proud to showcase some of these stories of courage, fortitude and heartbreak.”

The exhibition opened on 9 April 2018 and is housed in the Canadian Records Building at Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey. The exhibition is open from 8.30am to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday, and 9am to 4.30pm at weekends.

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Monday 23 April will mark 100 years since the Zeebrugge Raid. One of the most celebrated episodes of the First World War at sea, the Royal Navy attempted to block the Belgian port and prevent the German navy from using it. More than 200 sailors and marines were killed and over 300 wounded. The dead are commemorated by the CWGC at sites in the UK and in Belgium, including Zeebrugge Churchyard which will be visited by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal over the weekend.

Today (18 April) is the International Day for Monuments and Sites, which aims to raise public awareness about the diversity and vulnerability of the world’s built monuments and heritage sites and the efforts required to protect and conserve them. We have asked the Commission’s conservation team to tell us about four of CWGC’s impressive, but lesser-known sites from around the world. Which one would you like to visit? Vote in our Twitter Poll.

A burial service was held at the Commission’s New Irish Farm Cemetery this morning for Captain H J I Walker and six unknown soldiers, more than 100 years after their death.