On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the Great War also known as World War 1 finished in 1918. Being the first real mechanical war and with trench warfare being so brutal and unforgiving there was many casualties, with 900,000 souls lost. With this came certain problems with regards to what to do with the bodies of the dead. By August 1915 55,000 men had died on battlefields on the western front.
With the army’s main concern on winning the war, dealing with the casualties on the battlefield came to the responsibility of a man within the Red Cross. Officer Fabian Ware was, at 45 years of age, too old to sign up to the army so joined the Red Cross and with the assistance of Lord Milner he obtained the command of a mobile ambulance unit. Soon to realise the lack of resources on how to record where the graves of those killed was, he set about founding an organisation to do this. In 1915 both he and his organisation was transferred to the British Army. Eventually on 21st May 1917 the Imperial War Graves Commission was created by a Royal Charter with the Prince of Wales as it’s Chairman and Fabian Ware as the Vice Chairman.
With soldiers from all ranks being killed Fabian Ware believed that men should be buried in War Cemeteries near to the battlefields where they fought and died, in graves side by side with no difference from each other in terms of Rank, Race or Religion. With the American government willing to pay for the repatriation for any family who wanted their loved ones who served in the military to be brought home and with the French government bringing home every soldier to be either returned to the family or to be buried in a grave on French soil the British government came under increased pressure from Mothers, Wife’s and families of loved ones to bring home our British Soldiers.
Wealthy families that had connections because of their position in society, was at the beginning of the war locating the bodies of their loved ones and repatriating them. This soon created ill feeling towards the government, as one mother put it “this country took my son to war so this country should bring him home”. It was of situations of this nature that the idea of Fabian Ware’s War Cemeteries got overall approval from the government and the people in general.
Many junior officers were drafted from public schools like Eton and Harrow, as officers they were expected to lead from the front, and as the result of this the rank of officer seen more casualties than any other rank in the British army which also led to devastating numbers of schools losing pupils that were eligible to be drafted, with Eton losing 1/5 of its pupils that fought in the war.
Within the walls of one of the most famous churches in the world, Westminster Abbey, lies in the middle of the nave near the main entrance, the tomb of the unknown warrior. The tomb consists of a slab of Belgium marble in the floor, beneath of which is buried a soldier who is unknown, only to god. This soldier was chosen randomly from four bodies which were dug up from battlefields on the western front and buried here on 11th November 1920. His coffin made from an Oak Tree from the grounds of Hampton Court and rests in soil from the battlefields of France with the Brass inscription in the Marble from melted down ammunition shells. On the day of the state funeral of this soldier there was 100 Victoria Cross veterans as guard of honour with mostly women in the congregation as these were the most affected by the loss of the men.
Blog by Frank