Commonwealth War Graves Commission

From Academic Kids

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is a joint governmental organisation responsible for marking and maintaining the graves of members of the Commonwealth military forces who died in the two world wars and subsequent wars, to build memorials to those with no known grave, and to keep records of the war dead. Member nations are: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and India. Newfoundland was a founding member but ceased to have separate status from 1949 when it became a part of Canada. The President of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is HRH The Duke of Kent.

The largest cemeteries are in France and Belgium built after the First World War. The largest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery is Tyne Cot Cemetery north of Ypres, containing nearly 12,000 graves. A number of cemeteries are also present in the Middle East and Iraq as a result of battles against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, and in North Africa and Italy from the Second World War. The cemeteries have always been respected as humanitarian, non-political sites and instances of vandalism or desecration are rare. On May 9, 2004, 33 headstones were demolished by three armed men in the Gaza War Cemetery (which contains 3,500 graves) in supposed retaliation for the notorious Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse.

Each cemetery is made up of rows of white gravestones -- unlike French or German graves these are not shaped like crosses but are rather rectangles with rounded tops. Each gravestone is marked with a cross, however, except for those where the dead were known to belong to another religion where another symbol is provided. The graves are also marked with the name, rank and unit symbol of the soldier. Many soldiers are unknown and their gravestones bear no name, these have the phrase "Known Unto God" engraved upon them. Some graves also have additional phrases added by friends or family.

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Cross of Sacrifice

The cemeteries are normally surrounded by a low brick wall often with a decorative gate over the entrance. Many have an identical war memorial called the Cross of Sacrifice designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield that vary in height from 4.5m to 9m depending on the size of the cemetery. If there are one thousand or more burials, a Commonwealth cemetery will contain a Stone of Remembrance, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens with words from the book of Ecclesiasticus "THEIR NAME LIVETH FOR EVERMORE", all the Stones of Rememberance are all 3.5m long and 1.5m high with three steps leading up to them. Each cemetery has a plaque that explains which war the soldiers died in and provides some background history. They also have a visitors book and a register of everyone buried in the cemetery.

Monuments and Cemetaries Maintained by the CWGC

Web link War Graves Commission


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