In May we marked the 100th Anniversary of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission by introducing Sir Fabian Ware, a 45-year-old education director who, in September 1914, went to France desperate to serve his country. When Lt.-Col. Edward Stewart visited Ware’s Mobile Unit for the Red Cross in October, he was pleased with the additional work and care Ware’s staff had undertaken for the graves. In a Bethune Cemetery, Ware’s men had ensured British graves received labelled wooden crosses. Yet even at this early stage, Stewart was alarmed at the seemingly temporary nature with which graves registration was being treated:
“On most of these graves the names were only inscribed in pencil and we gave instructions at once that they should be painted on, on the reverse side to the pencil inscriptions”
(Summers, Remembered: The History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, p. 14).
Besides the pencil markings on wooden crosses, registration had only gone so far as the cemetery book kept by the original French caretaker, and Ware realized its incomplete state was probably reflective of all burials across the entire Western Front. With Stewart’s backing, Ware’s Mobile Unit was provided with the means to undertake the marking, registering, and tending of “all the British graves it could find” (Summers, Remembered: The History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, p. 14).