23 June 2017
CWGC 100th Anniversary – Part III


The lone grave of Captain Charles Ivor Rivers-Bulkeley of the 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards, killed on 16 May 1915. The improvised nature of the crosses indicate the lack of uniformity the Graves Registration Commission faced early in its existence.
© IWM (Q 57416)

After Lt.-Col. Edward Stewart’s visit to Sir Fabian Ware in October 1914, his Mobile Unit’s work had gained support, and eventually official recognition in February 1915, becoming officially responsible for finding, marking and registering all graves in France (Summers, Remembered: The History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, p. 14). As the war’s attrition increased, public pressure from those at home had re-enforced the need for a registration such as Ware was proposing. Letters were being written to newspapers and government officials, both requesting information for the graves of loved ones, but also expressing angst that none was being provided.

“One such, on 9 January 1915, told of a woman who had tried to locate the grave of her brother and had been disturbed to find that every trace of the cross or other identifying marks described to her by his comrades had disappeared” (Summers, Remembered: The History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, p. 14). Renamed the Graves Registration Commission, they set to their work with haste and purpose. Nearly a year into the war, Sir Fabian Ware’s men were already facing a backlog of thousands of unregistered graves. The task of registration “meant locating and marking a burial site and where necessary erecting an inscribed wooden cross” (Summers, Remembered: The History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, p. 14). Once registered, the grave’s details were recorded by the officer responsible for that battle sector, who in turn created a report of all graves his sector (Summers, Remembered: The History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, p. 14).

A member of the Graves Registration Commission remarked that the work required  “considerable patience and some skill as an amateur detective to find the grave of some poor fellow who has been shot in some out of the way turnip field and hurriedly buried, but I feel my modest efforts amply rewarded when I return a day or two later with a wooden cross with a neat inscription and plant it at the head of his grave, for I have the proud satisfaction of knowing that I have done some slight honour to one brave man who has died for his country” (H. Broadley, quoted in Longworth’s unpublished manuscript for The Unending Vigil, sourced from Summers, Remembered: The History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, p. 15).

During the period of May to October of 1915, Ware’s men registered 31,182 graves alone.


Two days later, Capt. Rivers-Bulkeley was no longer alone in his improvised plot.
© IWM (Q 57417)

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