Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Role of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Lone Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was established by Royal Charter of 21 May 1917, the provisions of which were amended and extended by a Supplemental Charter of 8 June 1964. Its duties are to mark and maintain the graves of the members of the forces of the Commonwealth who died in the two world wars, to build and maintain memorials to the dead whose graves are unknown, and to keep records and registers. The cost is shared by the partner governments—those of Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom—in proportions based on the numbers of their graves. The commission acts for its member governments in all matters concerning their war graves of the two World Wars.

Rouge Cabaret Cemetery, Artois, France

The commission's work is guided by fundamental principles which were established in 1920:
  • that each of the dead should be commemorated individually by name either on a headstone over the grave or by an inscription on a memorial if the grave was unidentified;
  • that the headstones and memorials should be permanent;
  • that the headstones should be uniform; and 
  • that there should be no distinction made on account of military or civil rank, race, or creed.

Aveluy Wood Cemetery, Somme Battlefield

The theme of common sacrifice and equal honour in death was reflected in the policy of non-repatriation of remains and contributed to the non-sectarian design of the headstones used throughout the world. Non-repatriation was strictly applied during both world wars for members of the Commonwealth's forces and resulted in the location of the memorials and cemeteries truly reflecting the scope of both conflicts. Indeed, the commission's mandate encompasses 1.7 million war dead commemorated in 150 countries in over 23,000 burial grounds.

To be considered war dead, a member of the forces must have died in service or as a result of service within the two war periods designated by the participating governments, i.e. 4 August 1914–31 August 1921 or 3 September 1939–31 December 1947.

Source:  CWGC Website


  1. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission does spectacular work. I personally prefer their policy of non repatriation from WW1 family experience. Both the CWGC and the ABMC do magnificent work and honor our war dead better than any others.

  2. A great book on the formation and growth of the CWGC is David Crane's Empires of the Dead: How One Man's Vision Led to the Creation of WWI's War Graves.