- United Kingdom
More informationA global network of cemeteries and memorials now marks every Commonwealth military casualty of the two World Wars - a commitment that was born amid the mud and slaughter of the Western Front.
The man responsible for this was Fabian Ware and, in this programme, Mark Whitaker tells his extraordinary story.
Ware arrived in France for the Red Cross and was shocked to find the graves of fallen soldiers going unrecorded. So his unit started registering all they could find and, over the next two years, sent 12,000 photographs to bereaved relatives.
As the War dragged on, Ware lobbied for an official organisation to carry on the work, with equality of treatment in death regardless of rank, race or creed. The Imperial War Graves Commission was born on 21 May 1917, with three of the finest architects of the day - Sir Edwin Lutyens, Sir Herbert Baker and Sir Reginald Blomfield - engaged to design the cemeteries and memorials for every known casualty.
But there were fierce arguments over two key principles - non-repatriation of bodies and rejection of private memorials, so that officers and men would lie side-by-side, as they had served. This argument culminated, in 1920, with one of the great Parliamentary debates, partly dramatised in this programme. Winston Churchill, as chairman of the Commission, made a majestic closing speech saying future generations would gaze in wonder upon their work, and the opponents were defeated.
Whitaker visits the Commission's headstone production centre, historic cemeteries in France, Belgium and the UK, and sees how horticulture remains at the heart of its work in creating the look of 'an English cottage garden' in no less than 153 countries around the World.
Producer: Mike Hally
A Square Dog Radio production for BBC Radio 4.