Unending vigil ensures their names liveth for evermore
IT is possible to create beauty and serenity out of pain and butchery, writes Anthony Stone.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has proved this many times over in its 2,500 cemeteries and plots in 145 countries throughout the world. There, in many corners of foreign fields, the Commission has created the final resting places for the 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth countries who died during two world wars.
It is an enormous undertaking and the Commission employs 1,250 staff, mostly gardeners and craftsmen, to maintain the graves in impeccable order.
The Commission was established by Royal Charter in 1917, born out of the overwhelming outpouring of public grief. Its founding principles have remained unaltered: that each of the dead should be commemorated individually by name either on the headstone on the grave or by inscription on a memorial; that the headstones and memorials should be permanent; that the headstones should be uniform; and that no distinction should be made on account of military or civil rank, race or creed.
Its duties are to mark and maintain the graves, to build and maintain memorials to the dead whose graves are unknown, and to keep records and registers.
Climate permitting, the headstones stand in narrow borders, where roses and small perennials grow, in a setting of lawn, trees and shrubs.
Two monuments are common to the cemeteries : the Cross of Sacrifice, usually set upon an octagonal base and bearing a bronze sword upon its shaft; and, in the larger cemeteries, the Stone of Remembrance, upon which are carved the words from the Book of Ecclesiasticus; "Their names liveth for evermore".
The Commission's work is paid for by the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, India, New Zealand and South Africa in the proportion to the number of their graves. Other Commonwealth countries contribute by bearing the cost of maintenance in their own lands.
The guns had been silent for four years when King George V walked across Flanders' fields and said: "We can truly say that the whole circuit of the earth is girdled with the graves of our dead . . . and in the course of my pilgrimage, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war."