CWGC 100th Anniversary – Part V 
13 July 2017

In today’s post on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission we continue our discussion from last week, looking at the tension that was rising from Sir Fabian Ware’s desire to keep all graves near the battlefields. Ware’s small team found itself battling with wealthy and influential families who wished to have their relatives exhumed and repatriated to England for a family burial.

(See last week’s post here:  http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/cwgc-100th-anniversary-part-iv/ )

“For those parents the bitter reality was that they would never be able to have a name inscribed on a headstone in a known resting place”  (Summers, Remembered: The History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, p. 25). 
Credit: Jordan Slump, 2006.

The debate between repatriation and equal treatment of graves carried on after the war and Sir Fabian Ware was prompted to release official statements to the press, outlining the Commission’s vision, stating: “a higher ideal than that of private burial at home is embodied in these war cemeteries in foreign lands, where those who fought and fell together, officers and men, lie together in their last resting place, facing the line they gave their lives to maintain” (Summers, Remembered: The History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, p. 25).

The issue eventually came to a head in a parliamentary debate in May 1920. Commission advocates insisted that the war had “fused and welded into one, without distinction of race, colour or creed”, men from all over the Empire who were “ready to die for one common cause that they all understood” (Summers, Remembered: The History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, p. 25). Countering, critics of the Commission called it “a terrible confusion of thought… the idea that you are entitled to take the bodies of heroes from the care of relatives and build them into a national state memorial” (Summers, Remembered: The History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, p. 25). In advocacy for the additional memorials, Burdett Coutts, MP for Westminster, noted that there were parents with no grave to visit. “Their boys were missing and their bodies remained undiscovered. For those parents the bitter reality was that they would never be able to have a name inscribed on a headstone in a known resting place” (Summers, Remembered: The History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, p. 25).

Ultimately, the House voted in favour of the Commission, believing it represented the desires of most of the Empire’s citizens. The vote had finally ratified the last six years of the Commission’s work  (Summers, Remembered: The History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, p. 25).