On 10 February, Dick Richards described the history and achievements of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It was founded, as the Imperial War Graves Commission, through the vision and determination of one man, Sir Fabian Ware. Working for the Red Cross, he arranged the recording of soldiers’ graves during the First World War. In 1917 the Imperial War Conference accepted his proposals for a permanent Commission.
Guided by distinguished professionals, including architect Edwin Lutyens, garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, and poet Rudyard Kipling, the Commission established its core principles:
- burial close to the place of death
- equality irrespective of rank or religion
- uniform headstones
- memorials giving the names of those with no grave
- headstones, graves and memorials to be maintained in perpetuity.
Every CWGC cemetery aims to evoke the grass, flowers and peace of an enclosed country churchyard. The headstones are in straight lines in a standard size and format. Bereaved relatives could, initially for a fee of threepence halfpenny per letter, choose a short personal inscription. There is a Christian ‘cross of sacrifice’, a Stone of Remembrance to acknowledge those of other faiths or none, and a shelter containing a cabinet with a list of the graves and a visitors book.
The Commission is also responsible for individual graves in many parish graveyards (including Radley), and for memorials to those with no known grave, most notably the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
The Commission undertakes to maintain every cemetery in perpetuity, including, for example, the one in Hong Kong now surrounded by modern development, and, when it becomes possible, the restoration of its cemeteries in Iraq.
On Tuesday 19 May, at 6.30 pm, Dick Richards will give RHC members a guided tour of the CWGC cemetery at Botley. This includes the graves of soldiers who died in military hospitals in Oxford, many Polish and German soldiers, and, poignantly, the graves of two women: staff nurse Mabel Murray and aircraftwoman Glenys Harris.
On Monday 9 March Nick Millea will talk about the forthcoming Atlas of Historic Maps of Oxford.