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What is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)?

The First World War started on 1 Aug 1914. By November 1914 both sides dug in as winter approached. Four years of trench warfare began. Conditions were awful…65 million people fought, 21 million wounded, and 8 million died, Men died in numbers never previously envisaged. Many were hurriedly buried in makeshift graves close to where they fell.

Surprisingly, there was no official mechanism for documenting or marking the location of graves of those who had been killed.

However, in September 1914, a 45-year old director of Rio Tinto Company, Fabian Ware, too old to join the British Army, became the commander of a mobile unit of the British Red Cross. Fabian Ware felt compelled to create an organization within the Red Cross for this purpose.

In March 1915 Ware’s work was given official recognition and support by the Imperial War Office and the unit was transferred to the British Army as the Graves Registration Commission. The new Graves Registration Commission had over 31,000 graves of British and Imperial soldiers registered by October 1915 and 50,000 registered by May 1916.

This “Graves Registration Commission” went through a variety of names (including “Imperial War Graves Commission”), it received the Royal Charter in 1917, and its work eventually spread all over the world, ending up as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1960.

The CWGC commemorate the 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars, and their work now extends to other military conflicts. The CWGC cemeteries, burial plots and memorials are a lasting tribute to those who died in some 153 countries across the world. There are  around 200 large memorials, 2,500 cemeteries, and 23,000 sites of burials across the world.

Initially, grave markers were of wood (or anything available). By 1918 the Imperial War Graves Commission had appointed three of the most eminent architects of their day, Sir Edward Lutyens, Sir Herbert Baker and Sir Reginald Blomfield to design the cemeteries and memorials. Under them, teams of assistant architects based along the Western Front dealt with the colossal task of building over 1,000 cemeteries. Rudyard Kipling was appointed literary advisor for the language used for memorial inscriptions. The garden designer Gertrude Jekyll was consulted too.

By 1920 the Commission had settled on a standard design for its cemeteries - walled (one metre high), with uniform headstones in a garden setting, augmented (if over 40 graves) by Blomfield's Cross of Sacrifice and Lutyens' Stone of Remembrance (with Kipling’s words “Their Name Liveth for Evermore”, if over 400 graves), and loggia style shelters (if over 200 graves) in a distinctive modern Classicical style.

By 1921, the Commission had established 1,000 cemeteries which were ready for headstone erections, and burials. Between 1920 and 1923, the Commission was shipping 4,000 headstones a week to France. By 1927, when the majority of construction had been completed, over 500 cemeteries had been built, with 400,000 headstones, a thousand Crosses of Sacrifice, and 400 Stones of Remembrance.

All headstones have a standard design, being made of Portland stone, 76cm x 38cm, with a national emblem or regimental badge, rank, name, unit, date of death and age of each casualty inscribed above an appropriate religious symbol and a more personal dedication chosen by relative.

The CWGC graves in Hungerford:

There are 12 CWGC war graves in St Saviour's churchyard. They are scattered around the cemetery and are kept neat and tidy by Committee members of the Royal British Legion Hungerford Branch. One member places a Remembrance Cross on each grave every November.

The graves are:-

First World War:

Name  Rank  Regiment  Date of Death  Grave Reference 
Appleby C.S. Private Army Service Corps 29.11.1915 C.30
Bull E.A. Stoker HMS Nelson 17.1.1920 H.13
Cook A. Sergeant Royal Berks Regt 29.5.1917 E.24
Cowell-Townshend R. 2nd Lieutenant 81 Squadron RAF 29.5.1918 G.5
Hill A.E. Private Wiltshire Regt 8.5.1916 D.23
Marchant H.D. Guardsman Grenadier Guards 17.6.1918 E.38
McCarthy C. Private Royal Army Medical Corp 2.4.1919 I.7
Orpin H.W. Private South Staffs Regiment 2.11.1918 G.8
Rosier P.G. Gunner Royal Garrison Artillery 2.11.1918 I.12


Second World War:

Name  Rank   Regiment Date of Death  Grave Reference 
Henderson J. Sergeant Royal Armoured Corps 10.5.1942  D.6
Tucker F.H.J. Private Royal Pioneer Corps 1.8.1943 D.8
Robinson F. Corporal Gloucestershire Regt 10.9.1945 E.1


All the above names are recorded on the Town’s War Memorial in Bridge Street with the exception of Private Appleby, Private Orpin, and Corporal Robinson.

An additional CWGC headstone is also being arranged to commemorate Frederick Foster, ex Royal  Navy. When at home on leave, he died in a motor bike accident, and was wearing his uniform. The MOD agreed to a War Grave in 2004 and a traditional headstone has been organised. (Information provided by John Parry, Mar 2019)).

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