Thursday, October 30, 2008

Memorials to the Missing:

Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, Egypt

Memorials to the Missing is a BBC radio play by Stephen Wyatt which has won both a Silver for Drama Sony Radio Academy Award 2008 and the Tinniswood Award for best original radio script broadcast in 2007.

It was repeated on Radio 4 today which prompted me to write about it, the subject of the play being how my Grandfather, Fabian Ware, founded the Imperial War Graves Commission- now, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Being too old to join the Services in the First World War, he joined the Red Cross in France. Here he was deeply disturbed by the fact that the bodies of so many soldiers were just discarded without identification or burial and he determined to rectify this.

And so forests of Tombstones evolved. His work in France was helped by the fact that he had studied at the Sorbonne in Paris.

My Grandfather was meticulous about details. Having many contacts from his time as Editor of The Morning Post, he was able to get the design services of architects such as Edwin Lutyens and cartographer MacDonald Gill (brother of Eric), plus the inscription services of writer Rudyard Kipling.

He consulted Kew Gardens regarding the planting of national plants from native stocks in the cemeteries, to symbolize links to the gardens of home countries. I am pleased to read on the Commission’s website that they have maintained a strong tree policy, totally realizing their importance (see Ficus trees in above photo of Egyptian Cemetery).

Unusually for the time: he insisted that all the headstones were identical, regardless of rank, race or creed.

Over one million casualties are now commemorated in some 150 countries. Relatives were thus comforted and the dead respected- and for that I respect him.

My memories of him are of a gentle, warm man who made me feel special and who loved birds, flowers and his garden in the Cotswolds. The signet ring he always wore was inscribed with the word "Pax"- and this was way before the hippie 60's!

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