Monday, 04 July 2022

Henley and Peppard Royal British Legion

THE talk at last month’s Henley and Peppard branch of the Royal British Legion lunch was on the history and formation of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Sue Wright, from the commission, told how the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission was set up in 1917 during the First World War and now commemorates the 1.7 million Commonwealth men and women who lost their lives during both world wars.

She outlined the immense difficulties which were encountered in the early days because, while today we are familiar with the cemeteries and memorials, in 1917 the idea of remembrance was revolutionary.

No nation, let alone an empire as vast and multicultural as the British Empire, had ever attempted to commemorate all its war dead from a given conflict. No template existed for the task of commemorating the dead on such a mammoth scale.

Everything we now take for granted, every facet of remembrance, had to be worked out, debated, costed and delivered.

Sue explained that the commission had faced some almost insurmountable

The idea of commemorating all the dead in the same way was considered controversial. Some families maintained their own ideas of how they wanted to mark the graves of their loved ones and were desperate to bring them back. They railed against the commission’s policy of non-repatriation.

For others, the decision to cater for different religions caused anger from a predominantly Christian Great Britain.

A petition of more than 8,000 signatures was raised to register protest at the decision to use rectangular headstones rather than
cruciform-shaped markers.

These factors placed enormous pressures on the commission as it tried to see through its vision.

The commission, and the establishment of remembrance as we know it today, is largely thanks to the vision and determination of one man, Fabian Ware.

Sir Edwin Lutyens, Sir Herbert Baker and Sir Reginald Blomfield were chosen to begin the work of designing and constructing the war cemeteries and memorials.

Rudyard Kipling was tasked as literary advisor to recommend inscriptions.

The branch’s lunches take place on the third Tuesday of each month at Henley Rugby Club’s Menza Café.

The talk at the lunch on Tuesday, April 19 will be “Philanthropy in confectionery” by Stan Ainsley.

For more information on how to book, please visit

Karen Grieve

event organiser

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