100 Years of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

On this day in 1917, a Royal Charter was given establishing what is now known as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). The cemeteries and graves the Commission look after can found across the world.

The Commission was the brainchild of Sir Fabian Ware who, being too old to fight in World War One, commanded a British Red Cross mobile unit. Whilst serving in France he realised  the need to mark the places where the fallen were buried so they would not be forgotten. By 1915 his work and that of his unit were recognised by the War Office and in 1917 they were given a Royal Charter and the Commission was officially formed.

The Commission had identified around 587,000 graves by 1918 and nearly as many registered casualties whose graves were unknown. After the end of the war the Commission set about creating the cemeteries and memorials we most associate the Commission with today.

Cross 2

Leading architects of the day were called upon to help design the cemeteries and gravestones and Rudyard Kipling was brought in as literary advisor for the inscriptions.

Twenty years after the Commission received it’s Charter, Ware wrote a book about its work called The Immortal Heritage – An Account of the Work and Policy of The Imperial War Graves Commission during the twenty years 1917-1937. The book includes a brief history of the Commission, alongside pictures of the cemeteries they created and a table showing the distribution of the cemeteries, graves and memorials in their care.

The cemeteries and memorials to the fallen can be found all over the world and include graves and memorials to servicemen and women from North Devon. Men like Jack Haysom (18) who died in India in 1915 whilst serving with the Devonshire Regiment; Serjeant Ernest George Symons of Landkey who was killed at Gallipoli and Lance Corporal Edward Brayley (31) who died during the Battle of Dujailah in Mesopotamia. All were buried in war cemeteries looked after by the Commission.

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The Commission, however, also look after graves much closer to home. In 1937 the Commission were looking after over 88,174 graves across 9,262 burial grounds within Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Barnstaple has 27 World War One graves, Bideford has 15 and Ilfracombe 21 and there are many others scattered across North Devon.

The cemeteries and graveyards of North Devon also contain the graves of those who fell in other conflicts. Barnstaple has another 22 World War Two war graves, including 2 civilian war dead. Wilfred Cater is one of those buried in Barnstaple after he died in training as an RAF Volunteer Reservist in 1941 aged 42. His Brother, Frank, had survived the First World War having seen action with the Royal North Devon Hussars at Gallipoli  before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps and subsequently the Royal Air Force.

13th January 1916 3 b-c RNDH At Gallipoli

Heanton Punchardon has the largest number of war graves in North Devon – 127 in total. The churchyard at St. Augustine is the burial-place for many of the men who were lost from RAF Chivenor during the war. Many of them were members of the Canadian and Australian Air Forces and they also include Czech servicemen who were part of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserves.

No matter where the graves and memorials are located the Commission are charged with their care.

Find Out More

Find out more about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Sir Fabian Ware by reading the following items we hold on our shelves

The Silent Cities by Sidney C Hurst [940.4411/HUR] is an illustrated guide to the war cemeteries and memorials in France and Flanders published in 1929

The Immortal Heritage by Fabian Ware [940.411/WAR] published in 1937 is an account of the first twenty years of the Commission

…Barum Athena


North Devon Men in the Great Naval Battle

In this second post to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland  is a transcript taken from the North Devon Journal published the following week. In its report covering the battle the Journal published information about those who survived as well as those who did not…

North Devon MenIn the Great Naval battle on May 31st, Lieut. Robert C. Chichester, who was an officer on H.M.S. “Black Prince,” lost his life. The deceased was the third son of the late Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Chichester, Bart., of Youlston, and of Lady Chichester, Instow. An officer of great promise, he was 27 years of age. Lieut. Robert C. Chichester entered the “Britannia” in May, 1904, and joined the Fleet as midshipman in September, 1905, being promoted to Sub-Lieut. In 1909 and Lieutenant in 1911. He served, among other ships, in H.M.S. “Indefatigable” and torpedo-boat destroyers.

Official intimation reached Mr. and Mrs. H. Beer, of Bishopstawton, on Tuesday that their third son, Gunner W. L. Beer, of H.M.S. “Lion,” was killed in action. The deceased, who was 32 years of age, was unmarried. He was highly respected in the parish, where he was for several years a chorister at the Parish church. Previous to joining the Navy, he was employed as a parcel clerk on the L.S.W.R. at Barnstaple Junction Station. Gunner Beer had previously participated in two other engagements, but had escaped any injury. Much Sympathy is extended to Mr. and Mrs. Beer and family in their bereavement.

Mr. and Mrs. W. B. A. Cann, of Well-street Barnstaple, had a son, leading Stoker Wesley William Cann, aged 28, on board H.M.S. “Defence.” Stoker Cann’s wife resides at Cardiff, and so far neither she nor Mr. and Mrs. Cann have received information from the Admiralty. Another son of Mr. and Mrs. Cann, Sergt. Charles Cann, is now with the Devons; he served his apprenticeship as a printer in the “North Devon Journal” Office. Two other sons are employed in a dockyard, and a son-in-law, Seaman F. M. Bennett, is on H.M.S. “Exeter.”

Official intimation was received yesterday (Wednesday) morning by Mrs. A. Short (proprietress of the Politmore Arms, Boutport-street, Barnstaple) that her husband, Leading Stoker William Henry Short, who was about 50 years of age, had been drowned on H.M.S. “Defence.” Much sympathy is expressed with Mrs. Short, who is left with two children.

Mr. and Mrs. C. Lemon, of Vicarage-street, Barnstaple, received information from the Admiralty yesterday (Wednesday) morning expressing the fear that their son, Mr. H. Lemon, aged 25, an engine-room artificer, went down with the “Defence.” Mr. H. Lemon was formerly employed as a mechanic at Raleigh Cabinet Works and the Derby Lace Factory. Mr. and Mrs. Lemon have two other sons serving—one in the Royal Engineers and the other in the R.A.M.C.

Chief Petty Officer George Arthur Sayers (son-in-law of Mr. John Shaddick, of Green Lane, Barnstaple), was seriously wounded in the great naval battle, losing his right leg. He is in hospital at Portsmouth, and is progressing as favourably as can be expected.

The husband of Mrs. Branch, of Croyde, was a member of the crew of H.M.S. “Lion,” and she received a message from him on Friday informing her of his safety.

A Brauntonian, Mr. Routcliff, son of Mrs. Cousins, of Chapel-street, was on H.M.S. “Indefatigable” when she was sunk. No official information had been received by the relatives up to yesterday morning.

Mr. Stevens, of Braunton, who was on the “Warspite,” has sent a message to his relatives at Braunton to say that he is all right.—Mr. Lovering, of Saunton, was also on the Ship.

Mr. Ridge, proprietor of the Mariner’s Arms, South-street, Braunton, has a son who was a member of the crew of H.M.S. “Defence,” but was not on the ship when it was sunk. He was in barracks, having just completed a week’s leave.

Warrant Officer Stuckey, son of Mr. and Mrs. Stuckey, of South-street, Braunton, who was on H.M.S. “Warrior,” has “wired” to his parents stating he is quite safe.

According to the Landkey Roll of Honour, two parishioners appeared to be serving on two of the ships engaged in the recent naval battle. They are George Shapland, of H.M.S. “Indefatigable,” and Ernest Snell, of H.M.S. “Warspite.” The former, who is a son of Mr. F. Shapland, had, however been transferred to a submarine. Snell’s parents have recently left Landkey.

Cecil Harris (son of Mrs. Harris, of the Station Restaurant, Lynton), was on the “Warrior.” His mother has received a telegram announcing his safety. So far as is known no Lyntonian lost his life in the engagement.

Mr. and Mrs. Henderson, of Palace Lodge, Crediton, lost their younger son, Richard who was a midshipman on the “Invincible.”

New has been received that Surgeon Probationer F. W. Lemarchand, was not on H.M.S. “Fortune” at the time of the action. He was gazetted quite recently, and only left Barnstaple to join the “Fortune” on Monday in last week.

Seaman Ware, of Torrington, was on the “Defence,” and a son of Mr L. Palmer, of Torrington, was in the “Black Prince” as engine room artificer.

A cousin of Mr. Yeo, Surveyor to Lynton Urban Council, was serving on the “Indefatigable.”

Captain and Mrs. Bates, of Clovelly, have heard from their son, William Bates, H.M.S. “Warrior,” assuring them that he is quite safe.

Seaman Bert Austin, of H.M.S. “Navy,” is home with friends at Hiern’s Lane, Ilfracombe, for a few days’ furlough this week. He was in the North Sea Battle, and is of the opinion that the Germans suffered far more than the British.

Mrs. G. H. Ackland, of 35, Charles-street, Barnstaple, yesterday received a letter from her son, Sick Berth Attendant, Harold Ackland, who was on board one of H.M. ships which took part in the great battle. His ship was in thick of the fight, but there were no casualties among the crew whatever.

Archie Barrow, youngest son of the late Mr. Geo. M. Barrow and Mrs. Barrow, of Swansea, and late of Barnstaple, lost his life in the naval battle He was on H.M.S. “Indefatigable.” He was 22 years of age.

A Northam boy named Thomas Glover, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Glover, of Honey-street, Northam, was on H.M.S. “Indefatigable.”

In the weeks that followed the “Great Naval Battle” both the Journal and the Herald published the experiences of those involved and the reactions to the events both in North Devon and beyond.

This transcript was taken from the North Devon Journal 8th June 1916 page 4 column f and is just one of many articles about  North Devon’s experiences during World War One published in the local newspapers. For more visit our North Devon War Items Album on our Facebook Page…Barum Athena

The Battle of Jutland – The Toll of the Brave

In the first of two posts covering the Battle of Jutland 100 years ago today we have a transcript of an article from the North Devon Herald. The next post will be a transcript taken from the Herald’s rival paper, the North Devon Journal. Published almost a week after the event both published news regarding the fate of some of the local men who were involved in the battle…

Toll of the Brave

North Devonians will acquiesce to the fullest extent in the praise and admiration which is being bestowed on the splendid sailors of Britain for the courage and tenacity which they displayed in the great ordeal of last week. The indomitable spirit which characterised the old “sea dogs” in the days of Nelson and Drake has again manifested itself in the hour of need. The aims of the enemy’s fleet, bond up with one of those spasmodic exits from the sequestered harbours of Kiel, were defeated, but at the cost of many fine ships, and, alas! many thousands of brave lives. As we expected—for true to their maritime traditions, Devonians are to be found on almost every ship—many local men sacrificed their lives on the altar of duty in last week’s battle. The people of North Devon are becoming more or less steeled in the matter of personal loss—those nearest and dearest to them, or a valued friend or acquaintance. For the moment the scene of the great conflict for North Devonians has been removed from the desert plains of Mesopotamia to the blue waters of the North Sea. On the blood-sodden battle-fields of Flanders, on the rugged barrier slopes of Gallipoli, on the sunny hills and plains f India, have Devon lads been laid to rest with military honours. Truly may it be said, “Wave may not foam, nor wild wind sweep, where rest not Devon’s dead.” And now in this last awful, yet glorious, battle, in which the grand British Navy taught the arrogant foe that Britain’s boundary stretches from shore to shore, many a gallant North Devonian has found a true sailor’s sepulchre—beneath the blue waves. They fought a good fight: they have finished their course. We sorrow for their loss, but we rejoice in that they nobly did their duty. Their names will be inscribed on that imperishable roll of honour (which will be cherished by generations yet unborn), of those who cheerfully made the greatest of all sacrifices in the defence of their motherland; in the cause of freedom; and of everything that is righteous and good. “Soft sigh the winds of heaven o’er their graves! While the billow mournful rolls, and the mermaids’ song condole, Singing glory to the souls of the brave!”

The complete casualty list of the Admiralty has yet not been published. Unhappily, however, it has been stated that neither men nor officers were saved from H.M.S. Defence, on which were serving several local men. It might be that passing neutrals have proved their salvation, or even that some of them have fallen into the hands of the foe, but in the absence of re-assuring news we must mourn them as among those who have perished.

Among the local casualties are the following:-


Engine-Room Artificer H. H. Lemon, Barnstaple.

Leading Stoker W.W. Can, Barnstaple.

Leading Stoker W.H. Short, Barnstaple.

Stoker E. Ware, native of Barnstaple.

First-Class P.O. Douglas Harris, Barnstaple.

Seaman J. Pulling, a native of Barnstaple.

The Rev. E. G. Morgan, B.H., Chaplain of H.M.S. Invincible, of Northam.

Mr. Routcliff, H.H.S. Indefatigable, of Braunton.


Lieut. Robert Chichester, Instow.

Wm. L. Beer, Bishopstawton


First-Class P.O. Gus. A. Sayer, Barnstaple

 Casualty List

Engine-Room Artificer Harry Hole Lemon is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Chas. Lemon, of Vicarage-street, Barnstaple. He was articled to Messrs. Shapland and Petter, of the Raleigh Works, as an engineer, afterwards working for some time at Messrs. Miller Bros.’ Lace Factory. A few years since he joined H.M. Navy, and for some time prior to the outbreak of war served on H.M.S. Defence in the Mediterranean. His ship led the fleet up the Adriatic, when on the outbreak of war they “bottled up” the Austrian fleet. E.R.A. Lemon had been through some exciting experiences during the past two years, but true to the traditions of the service he was always very reticent in this subject. It was only a fortnight or so ago that he was home on leave, when he was full of the cheery optimism which was one of his outstanding characteristics. He was longing for “Der Tag,” as were also many thousands of British sailors. Before joining the service Mr. Lemon was a valued member of St. Mary’s (Barnstaple) Church choir, firstly as a boy and afterwards as an adult. In later years he developed a rich tenor voice, and delighted congregations of the church with many beautiful solos. When home on leave from his ship he invariably took his accustomed place in the choir, being always assured of a hearty welcome by his old friends at St. Mary’s. He was also one of the servers at the altar of St. Mary’s. With the ship’s company, E. R. A. Lemon was a warm favourite. He contributed largely to the success of the many concerts which were arranged on board, and his happy manner and genial disposition made him the pleasantest of companions. He was naturally hospitable and generous; and it leaves much to be regretted that so promising a career should thus be so early terminated. In the Barnstaple district his charm of manner and personality attracted the affection of a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. He was well-known locally, and generally esteemed and respected. Mr Lemon was a former member of the Barnstaple Pierrot Troupe, who, in addition to giving many entertainments throughout North Devon, gave several performances form the bandstand in Rock Park. He took a keen interest in the Boy Scout movement, having been one of the first to join the original troupe brought into being through the instrumentality of the Rev. J. W. H. Sowerbutts. He was 25 years of age. Two other brothers are serving in the Army—Messrs. Jack and Ernie Lemon—in the Royal Engineers and the R.A.M.C. respectively, and a twin brother of the deceased, Mr. Chas. Lemon, is engaged on transport work on Salisbury Plain with Messrs. Chaplin and Co. Yesterday (Wednesday) the parents received a message from the Admiralty stating that E. R. A. Lemon was “believed to have been on H.M.S. Defence when that vessel was sunk in action. In these circumstances it is feared that in the absence of any evidence to the contrary he must be regarded as having lost his life.” With the bereaved parents, his sister and brothers, the utmost sympathy is felt.

First-Class Petty Officer Fredk. Douglas Harris was well-known in Barnstaple, where he had made his home for some years. He was first-class leading torpedo instructor on H.M. Defence. The deceased was 32 years of age. P.O. Harris was engaged to Miss Sadd, of Victoria-street, Barnstaple.

Leading Stoker W. W. Cann, H.M.S. Defence, was the son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Cann, of Well-street, Barnstaple. Before joining the Navy he was employed at Messrs. Miller Bros.’ Lace Factory. He was 28 years of age. Leading Stoker Cann was married only a short time since. He was well-known locally and generally respected.

Seaman J. Pulling was a native of Barnstaple. He was serving on H.M.S. Defence. It was only about three weeks since that he spent a short holiday in Barnstaple, renewing many pleasant acquaintanships. He was 21 years of age. Seaman Pulling was a grandson of Mrs. Pulling, on Bradiford.

Leading Stoker W. H. Short was also on the Defence. His wife is the licensee of the Politmore Arms, Boutport-street, Barnstaple. Mrs. Short yesterday received the official Admiralty message to the effect that her husband was believed to have been on H.M.S. Defence at the time she was sunk in action.

Mr. And Mrs. J. Shaddick, of Green-lane, Barnstaple, have received official intimation that their son-in-law, First-Class P.O. Gus. Sayer, was wounded in the naval battle last week.

Stoker E. Ware, a native of Torrington, had been in H.M. Navy for some years. He was serving on the Defence. Stocker Ware is a nephew of Mr. and Mrs. Babb, of Sticklepath, Barnstaple.

A Northam boy named Thomas Glover, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Glover, of Honey-street, Northam, was on H.M.S. Indefatigable.

Official intimation was received at Bishopstawton on Tuesday that Gunner William L. Beer, R.M.A., killed in the naval action. He was 32 years of age, and had been in the Navy for fourteen years. He was serving on H.M.S. Lion, and was previously in the engagements at Heligoland and the Dogger Bank. Gunner Beer was well-known in the district, where he had many friends. Possessed of many amiable qualities, he was very popular, and his death will be keenly regretted in the parish of Bishopstawton. The deceased was the third son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Beer, formerly of Lynmouth and now of Bishopstawton and a brother of Mr. Philip Beer, of Hillside, Bishopstawton, with whom, together with other relatives, deep sympathy is expressed.

We understand that Mr. Geo. Penny, nephew of Mr. and Mrs. Penny, of Boutport-street, Barnstaple, a member of the crew of the Black Prince, was not on board during last week’s battle. Mr. Penny had been ashore for the purpose of undergoing examination—in which he was successful—and his time was not up to rejoin his ship.

News has been received that Surgeon Probationer F. W. Lemarchand, son of Dr. A. W. and Mrs. Lemarchand, of Barnstaple, was not on H.M.S. Fortune at time of the action. He was only gazetted quite recently, and only left Barnstaple to join the Fortune on Monday in last week.

This transcript was taken from the North Devon Herald 8th June 1916 page 5 columns b-c and is just one of many articles about  North Devon’s experiences during World War One published in the local newspapers. For more visit our North Devon War Items Album on our Facebook Page…Barum Athena