At the end of The Great War (1914-19) came the mammoth task of identifying hundreds of thousands of war dead, many of whom had been hastily buried in ad-hoc battlefield graves, or whose war records were inaccurate, fabricated or, at times, missing entirely.“Never had a nation, let alone an Empire as vast and multicultural as the British Empire, attempted to commemorate all its war dead from a given conflict. No template existed for the task of commemorating the dead on such a mammoth scale. Everything we now take for granted, every facet of remembrance, had to be worked out, debated, costed and delivered.” [History of the CWGC]
COMETH THE HOUR…
At the age of 45, Fabian Ware (left) was too old to fight when the First World War started in 1914 but he was determined to “do his bit”.
He became the commander of a mobile unit of the British Red Cross – initially attached to the French sector of what we now call the Western Front.
Fabian was shocked by what he found. The sheer number of casualties was without precedent. There was no system in place to bury the dead or record or mark their final resting places.
Encouraged by the Prince of Wales, he submitted a memorandum to the Imperial War Conference in 1917 suggesting such an organisation be created. It was unanimously approved and so the Imperial War Graves Commission was established by Royal Charter on 21 May 1917, with the Prince serving as President and Ware as Vice-Chairman.
The Commission had also been mandated to individually commemorate each soldier who had no known grave, which amounted to 315,000 in France and Belgium alone. The Commission initially decided to build 12 monuments on which to commemorate the missing; each memorial being located at the site of an important battle along the Western Front.
After resistance from the French committee responsible for the approvals of memorials on French territory, the Commission revised their plan and reduced the number of memorials, and in some cases built memorials to the missing in existing cemeteries rather than as separate structures.
Reginald Blomfield‘s Menin Gate was the first memorial to the missing located in Europe to be completed, and was unveiled on 24 July 1927 (right). The Menin Gate (Menenpoort) was found to have insufficient space to contain all the names as originally planned and 34,984 names of the missing were instead inscribed on Herbert Baker‘s Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing.
Other memorials followed: the Helles Memorial in Gallipoli designed by John James Burnet; the Thiepval Memorial (left) on the Somme and the Arras Memorial, both designed by Edwin Lutyens; and the Basra Memorial in Iraq designed by Edward Prioleau Warren.
WW2 saw new Memorials – see below
Second World War:
From the start of the Second World War in 1939, the Commission began planning ahead based on the experience gained from the First World War, and earmarked land for use as cemeteries.
When the war began turning in favour of the Allies, the commission was able to begin restoring its First World War cemeteries and memorials. It also began the task of commemorating the 600,000 Commonwealth casualties from the Second World War, and in different Theatres of War, in far flung parts of the World.
In 1960 the “Imperial War Graves Commission” [IWGC] was renamed the “Commonwealth War Graves Commission” [CWGC].
Ruskington War Dead:
It is amazing that, for such a small village, 18 the men who gave their lives in the two World Wars have no known grave and are commemorated all over the World on a total of 9 Commonwealth War Grave Memorials to the Missing.
The difference between the two Wars, however, is apparent. In WW1 the greatest number fell in France, whilst the 2nd World War saw many more casualties in Africa and Italy, and particularly in the Far East, often as a result of atrocities suffered as prisoners-of-war in Japan.