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.

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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


Welcome to 2016

The start of a new year gives us a chance to reflect on some of the things we have discovered over the last year and look forward to some of the things we may find during 2016.


In 2015 we showcased some of the items we have in our general library collection through our new series of Discover…On Our Shelves! posts. June saw the 800th anniversary of the signing of the  Manga Carta, whilst the previous month saw the anniversary of the War of the Roses. We ended the year on the 150th birthday of Rudyard Kipling who spent time in Westward Ho! as a boy.



June also the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and we took the opportunity to publish a first hand account of the battle by local veteran, Lieut. John Roberts, whose diary can be found in our Document Collection.


The Carnage dreadful beyond description – Lieut. Roberts


We had guest posts by Philip and Millie, both of whom spent time with us on work experience. Philip found out about his Jones ancestors, while Millie researched the history of the White Lion public house in Barnstaple.


1st Edition OS map (1890) showing Newland Corn Mill – The Jones Connection

As part of our World War One Project we continued to post articles taken from the North Devon Journal and North Devon Herald on our Facebook page as well as posting longer articles on Tales From the Archives. There were some troublesome aliens to be dealt with, a Jewell in Barnstaple’s Crown and a visit to a prisoner of war camp to visit a loved one.  October marked the Royal North Devon Hussars’ arrival in Gallipoli and there were several articles, including the eloquent letters from Sergt. Cater, which recounted some their experiences during the Gallipoli and Dardanelles Campaign

13th January 1916 3 b-c RNDH At Gallipoli

We will continue to follow the Royal North Devon Hussars experiences of the First World War throughout 2016 as well as the stories of those both home and abroad whose lives were impacted by the war.

There are also other anniversaries coming up in 2016, which will see commemorations of Shakespeare’s death and the births of Charlotte Bronte, Capability Brown and Beatrix Potter. It will also be the anniversary of the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the Battle of Hastings of 1066.

We are also hoping to have more guest posts from some of the people who work and volunteer with us. It will be another interesting and fascinating year in the archives…Barum Athena.

Barumite’s Visit to Gallipoli

In this article from the North Devon Herald Pte. Frank Knott talks about his experiences on board a hospital ship travelling to Gallipoli to take care of the sick and injured…

NDH 2nd Dec 1915 5f HeadlinePte. Frank Knott, son of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert J. Knott, of Bear-street, Barnstaple, arrived at Southampton last week after making his first voyage to the near East. Pte. Knott belongs to the R.A.M.C., and is a member of the staff of one of the largest hospital ships. Spending a few hours with his parents in Barnstaple on Thursday and Friday, he was seen by a “Herald” representative. Expressing himself in a general sort of way, Pte. Knott said he had enjoyed immensely his first visit to the actual war zone, but the voyage had brought him into touch with grim realities of the conflict. Happily they were not troubled with enemy submarines, although this was no doubt due to good luck, or the ever increasing vigilance of the Allied fleets, rather than to any consideration on the part of the pirates to the humanitarianism and merciful work in which the vessel was engaged. Pte. Knott dismissed with scorn the German assertions that the sick berths were loaded with munitions of war, and that the coal bunkers of the hospital ships were but the hiding place for battalions of soldiers. On reaching the Mediterranean the requirements of a modern army and the absolute necessity for complete command of the sea in order to establish oversea bases was brought vividly home to one’s mind. Ships of all descriptions were to be seen travelling hither and thither engaged in the work of supplying the armies in the Balkans and in the Dardanelles. Warships were also frequently met with. The dashing destroyers ploughing their way through the waters at a tremendous speed hunting enemy submarines demonstrated to the full that the underwater craft were being given no rest, and that while they were kept “on the run” they could do little or no damage. The hospital ship called at several Mediterranean ports, at one of which members of the Red Cross staff were able to go ashore for a couple of hours. This was a welcome concession, for it gave one a peep at the Oriental and other life, for the population was extremely cosmopolitan in character, being drawn from almost all nations under the sun. Some of the quaint and picturesque costumes of the people were both interesting and instructive. After several hours’ hard steaming, one could hear a rumbling noise in the distance, faint at first, but gradually broadening and deepening until it merged into one perpetual roar. It was the sound of the artillery and the guns from the Allied fleet around Gallipoli. Some little time later one could see the flashes of the bursting shells, and with the break of day we beheld Gallipoli—a place the thought of which is mingled with so many happy and sorrowful memories in different parts of the world; happy in that many of the most gallant and glorious deeds have been wrought on that narrow strip of land, and sorrowful because it has swallowed up so many of Briton’s bravest and best. One had only to scan the rugged mountainous country to realise the tremendous obstacles, natural barriers, which the Allied troops were endeavouring to overcome. It was really wonderful to think that they had obtained such a footing as they had on the Peninsula. As the hospital ship steamed into Suvla Bay—the scene of a memorable landing—the Turkish batteries were busy shelling a transport making for one of the landing places. Happily, however, only one shot struck the vessel. British monitors quickly got into position, and gave the enemy gunners their change, with perhaps a little “extra” to go on with. High over the land could be discerned two of the Allies’ airmen, looking like little specks in the heavens. They were engaged in the necessary and valuable work of “spotting” for the guns. The British shells were presumably falling too near the Turks to be comfortable, for the enemy opened a furious fire on the airmen, who, however, were well out of range of the enemy’s guns. From the decks of the hospital ship one could see an improvised hospital on the beach with the familiar Red Cross attached. Here were congregated some hundreds of men, awaiting shipment to various hospitals, where they would obtain the necessary attention and nursing. Lighters filled with their human cargoes pushed off from the shore, and soon the Red Cross workers were busy tenderly moving the wounded and the sick to more comfortable quarters on the hospital ship, replete with every medical and surgical convenience. The work of taking the wounded on board took some little time, and subsequently more wounded were “picked up” from the islands around. By a singular coincidence Pte. Knott soon came across a Barumite, Mr. Nightingale, of Green-lane, who was a member of the crew of one of the warships. He was suffering from dysentery. Needless to say a chat on the “doings from home” considerably cheered and enlivened the invalid. Later Pte. Knott came across Company-Sergt.-Major Charles Medway, a brother of Mr Herbert Medway, of Lynton, who had been serving with his regiment on the Gallipoli Peninsula for some months past. C.-S.-M. Medway was suffering from rheumatism. Lance-Corpl. A. Dobbs, of Marwood, a member of the Royal North Devon Hussars-(whose death was reported in our columns a week or so ago)-died during the voyage to Malta. When removed from Gallipoli he was suffering badly from dysentery. Lance-Corpl. Dobbs was accorded a hero’s burial at sea, the solemnity of the service making a deep impression on those present who had never before witnessed the solemn rite.

Among the wounded on board was a member of the Royal North Devon Hussars—Trooper Gregory, who hails from the Lynton district. He was suffering from a shell wound in the leg, and in the course of a conversation with Pte. Knott he stated that he was standing by the side of Sergt. Symons, of Swimbridge, when when he was killed, a portion of the same shell which killed the N.C.O. placing Trooper Gregory hors de combat. Many of the bad cases, were taken ashore at the Mediterranean ports, and a number of convalescent soldiers brought on board to be landed at Southampton. With Pte. Knott on the hospital ship are Pte. H. Morrish and Pte. W. Jarvis, of Barnstaple, and Pte. Walter Wills, of Westleigh, all Red Cross workers.

Transcript from the North Devon Herald 2nd December 1915 page 5 column f. You can find more articles covering North Devonians experiences in Gallipoli on our Facebook page or by going to the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon which is also the home of the Regimental Collection of the Royal Devon Yeomanry.

Discover Gallipoli and the Dardanelles…On Our Shelves

This month marks the anniversary of the Royal North Devon Hussars arrival in Gallipoli in 1915. By the time they arrived the  British and ANZAC troops had already suffered heavy casualties and there were already calls for the Peninsula (also known as the Dardanelles) to be evacuated.

The Royal North Devon Hussars landed in Suvla Bay on 8th October. By the 17th October they had lost one of their commanding officers, Major Moorland Greig, in a shell attack on their trenches and Sir Ian Hamilton, the man in charge of the Gallipoli operation, had been recalled to London to give his account of what was happening there. Hamilton was replaced by General Munro who immediately started to plan for the evacuation of the Peninsula.

13th January 1916 3 b-c RNDH At Gallipoli

From; North Devon Herald 13th January 1916 page 3 column b

There were more losses to come for the Hussars both on and off the battlefield as many of their number fell victim to dysentery and the effects of frost bite and other conditions related to the harsh climate they faced. Articles carrying news of the fate of some of the Hussar’s and letters from the men appeared in the local newspapers and included descriptions of the Hussars’ landing and how bread was made to feed the troops. The articles and letters published in the North Devon Herald and North Devon Journal can be found in our newspaper archive and a selection of them have been posted on our Facebook page.

Other first hand accounts of the campaign were published after the war in volumes such as The Great War…’I Was There’ edited by Sir John Hammerton and contained the stories of those who served on both sides of the conflict throughout the war. Fuller accounts of what went on during the Gallipoli campaign; The Uncensored Dardanelles by E. Ashmead-Bartlett and Gallipoli Memories by Compton Mackenzie can also be found on our shelves. Ashmead-Bartlett was a war correspondent and the first one to report on the ANZAC landings, while Mackenzie was in counter-intelligence in Gallipoli but is probably most well known for his novels Whiskey Gallore and The Monarch of the Glen.

The Times newspaper produced volumes entitled The Times History of the War throughout the conflict and contained some of the more haunting images of the war as it progressed. The Illustrated London News also produced images of the conflict with each edition containing pictures of some of the commanding officers who had perished since the previous issue had gone to print and produced a supplement covering the Dardanelles Operations.

Cover of the Illustrated London News July-Dec 1915

Cover of the Illustrated London News July-Dec 1915

We have the pleasure of presenting our readers this week with a supplement of most unusual interest and value. It consists of eight pages, and four of them in colour from the paintings made by Mr. Norman Wilkinson, R.I., as the outcome of his personal and trained observation while serving in the Navy at the Dardanelles. These are the first coloured pictures of these historic operations to be published…Mr. Norman Wilkinson has painted scenes which he saw with the accuracy which is characteristic of all his work, and the result is a series of pictures which possess the charm of art and the distinction of historic value. [The Illustrated London News, Nov. 27, 1915-686]

The supplement included 10 colour reproductions of Wilkinson’s work alongside photographs taken of the operations.

Alongside these volumes are also histories of the war, many of which were published before 1939 and written by some other familiar names (including a certain Winston Churchill).

As for the Royal North Devon Hussars – they were evacuated from the Peninsula on 18th December 1915 and spent Christmas en route to Egypt where they were to spend a quiet few months before their next role.

They were only eleven weeks on the Peninsula, and they consequently suffered less–both from the enemy action and from disease–than troops that had landed earlier; but the experiences wer trying enough, and they faced them in a manner that won the approval of the high authorities. Their staunchness was not tested in the evacuation, which was successfully accomplished without the firing of a single shot… [The Yeomanry of Devon 1794-1927 by Engineer-Com. Benson Freeman, R.N. p196 (D355/FRE)]

You can find all the items mentioned in this post on our shelves for more information about the resources we hold visit the General Collection page on our website or search our Library Catalogue. You can also find out more about the Royal North Devon Hussars at the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon which serves as the regimental museum.