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Newport Branch Meeting, 2024 April 30

Newport Branch Talks, 2024 April 30.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission by Andrew Hemmings.

Our speaker was Andrew Hemmings, a volunteer with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who has the responsibility for the war graves in the Newport area- principally at St Woolos Cemetery in Newport and St Basil’s in Bassaleg.

He started by talking about the Commission’s origins. When the First World War started in August, 1914 there was no plan for dealing with the multitude of killed soldiers. However, Sir Fabian Ware devised a scheme which led to the formation of the Commission.

His ideas were

(a). Bodies would not be transported back to Britain but would be buried near the battlefield in which they had perished.

(b). A standard grave stone would be used which would not distinguish rank, nationality, colour or creed.

(c). The graves would be in Military Cemeteries, which must respect in full dignity the sacrifice made and the architecture and horticulture employed would reflect this.

(d) Each Cemetery would have the Cross of Sacrifice and the Stone of Remembrance.

The task was huge as in the two World Wars some 1.1 million headstones were used and many others, with no known remains, were listed on giant memorials at places such as Thiepval and the Menin Gate. The cost was to be shared between the six main Commonwealth Nations- United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India.

Of course, although the fallen were not brought home from their battlefields many did die in Britain later from their injuries or, particularly for the RAF, were killed often in training exercises at home. All were given similar tombstones and these are often found in civilian cemeteries through out the Kingdom. The CWGC have the responsibility for all such graves – both in military cemeteries and individual war graves in local cemeteries.

The process is never ending with bodies still being located in France and Flanders during building works and identified, if possible, by their DNA and still given War Grave tombs with full military honours. Climate change, of course, needs to be accounted for in maintaining the horticultural environment and weathering of the inscriptions must be controlled.

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