max temp: 8°C

min temp: 7°C


War history: Cemetries have huge emotional impact on visitors to First World War battlefields

13:30 25 January 2014

King George V with Fabian Ware and Field Marshal Douglas Haig, inspecting wooden crosses in Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium, in May, 1922.

King George V with Fabian Ware and Field Marshal Douglas Haig, inspecting wooden crosses in Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium, in May, 1922.


Fabian Ware was determined our fallen heroes would never be forgotten. Sadly, history hasn’t greatly remembered him. Mike Peters, Galloway Travel’s military historian, aims to put that right


I have been visiting battlefields for more than 30 years and leading tours for over 20. One thing that has remained constant is the huge emotional impact that the cemeteries of all nations have on battlefield visitors. Many readers will be familiar with the cemeteries that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) manages on our behalf. These are emotive places that can affect even people that have no direct link to the First World War or the cemeteries we visit.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorates the 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars. CWGC maintains a staggering 23,000 cemeteries, burial plots and memorials to those who have died in 153 countries. Surprisingly few people actually know the origins of the commission or the ethos that led to its creation.

In 1922, only four years after the armistice, King George V visited Flanders. He toured the still-devastated landscape, viewing many of the cemeteries being put in place. The monarch was clearly moved by what he saw, saying: “I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth through the years to come than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war.”

It captured the sentiment of the post-war world – war should never be allowed to happen again. From personal experience, this feeling is usually coupled with the powerful emotion of grief and, after years of war, a need to mourn the dead appropriately. An overwhelming desire was shared across Britain, the Empire and the Commonwealth. With few exceptions, men and women of every nationality and social class were determined that the sacrifice of those who had died, and those that were still missing, must never be forgotten.

The silent witnesses to which King George referred were, of course, the dead: the bodies of almost a million British and Commonwealth soldiers now scattered over the Western Front, many even further afield. At the end of the war, makeshift field cemeteries and bodies seemed to litter every far-flung corner of the globe. Thankfully one man, Fabian Ware, had foreseen the need for an organisation dedicated to the recovery, identification, burial and commemoration of the dead and the missing of the First World War.

Early in the war, Ware had realised that this conflict was nothing like previous wars. Shocked by the huge casualty figures, he saw the human cost at first-hand and knew the final cost of victory would be unprecedented. With these thoughts in mind, he anticipated what public reaction would be when hostilities ceased. He knew the families of the dead would want to see the battlefields for themselves. This was especially true of the Western Front.

The last campaign that Britain had fought so close to home had culminated in the carnage that was the Battle of Waterloo. In its aftermath, few but the rich could afford to visit the battlefield in Belgium. This was not the case in 20th Century Britain; bereaved families could afford to make private pilgrimages to Belgium and France. Ware envisaged thousands of bereaved relatives making their way from all over the British Empire to see the battlefields and visit the grave of their loved one.

Ware was not a soldier; at 45 he was too old to fight. Instead he became the commander of a mobile unit of the British Red Cross. He felt driven to find a way to ensure the resting places of the dead would not be lost. Under his dynamic leadership, his unit began recording and caring for all the graves they could find. By 1915, their work was given official recognition by the War Office and incorporated into the British Army as the Graves Registration Commission.

Once land for cemeteries and memorials was guaranteed, the enormous task of recording the details of the dead began. By 1918, some 587,000 graves had been identified and a further 559,000 casualties registered as having no known grave. This was a daunting task beyond the scale of any previous war. Thankfully, the man at the head of the commission had a clear vision of what must be done.



Woman conned by bogus caller (Stock photo)

A Hadleigh woman who lost £2,500 in a police scam has warned others to be alert to the crime.

Members of the nursing team at Ipswich Hospital.

Carers and visitors of people being looked after at Ipswich Hospital will next month be able to spend more time with patients as new extended visiting hours are introduced.

She was last seen in the area of Downside Close in Ipswich.

Concern is growing for a 49-year-old woman who has gone missing in Ipswich.

Part of Sue Brooks' photograph of pupils and staff at Fonnereau House School, Ipswich, in 1952. Are you in the picture?

I recently asked readers if they had memories of Fonnereau House School, Ipswich, which was in Fonnereau Road, close to High Street.

South East Suffolk Magistrates' Court

A teenager must pay nearly £300 in fines and court costs after admitting being drunk and disorderly in Kesgrave.

Ipswich Park and Ride. Martlesham.

The two remaining park and ride sites in Ipswich could close in three years’ time if there is not a substantial increase in the number of motorists using them.

Doors reopen on the new look East of England Co-op Daily store in Woodbridge Thoroughfare. Staff members, left to right, Chloe Williams, James Buckles, Shirley Pierce.

Shoppers were greeted by the sight of a new-look Co-op on their high street yesterday, when a Suffolk branch of the store reopened following three weeks of refurbishment.

HGV drink-driver in court

A lorry driver carrying a trailer full of wine has admitted dangerous driving when weaving between lanes on the A14 while three times over the drink-drive limit.

Dan Poulter with Lord Robert Winston

ES 18.3.11

Suffolk County Council’s cabinet training day at Elstree film studios in Hertfordshire has come under fire from Conservative MP and former minister Dr Dan Poulter.

Childhood obesity figures revealed

One in 10 Suffolk children will become obese or overweight before leaving primary school, new figures have revealed.

Most read

Most commented

Topic pages

Local business directory

Suffolk's trusted business finder

Property search

e.g. Oxford or NW3
Powered by Zoopla

Digital Edition

Read the Ipswich Star e-edition today E-edition

Great British Life

Great British Life
MyDate24 MyPhotos24