28th November 2019

In_pictures Marking the memories of a million soldiers

In_pictures Marking the memories of a million soldiers


in_pictures View of Tyne Cot cemetery inImage copyright
Mike St Maur Sheil / Western Front Photography

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Tyne Cot is the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world, for any war

The act of Remembrance takes place every day of the year for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

It works to maintain more than one million headstones and memorials in 154 countries around the world to mark those who died in World War One and World War Two.

Tyne Cot cemetery near the town of Ypres in Belgium is where almost 12,000 soldiers who fought in World War One are buried.

in_pictures Two headstones to two soldiers who died on the same day of the battle of the Somme.Image copyright

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These two soldiers died on the same day of the Battle of the Somme. One was a celebrated footballer and VC winner

“We are probably the world’s largest gardener,” Peter Francis from the Commission says, with staff mowing the equivalent of 1,000 football pitches every week.

The headstones are the same size surrounded by uniform lawns and flowers.

The Commission says everyone who died is treated equally, adding it “doesn’t matter whether you were killed in battle and awarded a Victoria Cross or whether you died from influenza”.

in_pictures Person covered by a small tent repairing a headstone at Delville Wood Cemetery in FranceImage copyright

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A significant part of the Commission’s work is making sure the inscriptions on headstones and memorial panels remain legible

The Commission employs 13,000 staff around the world – many of them locals. Four generations of the Jaradah family have been tending the Gaza cemetery that dates from WW1.

“I’m a son of the cemetery,” Ibrahim, the youngest member of the family, says. “I’ve grown up with these men.”

in_pictures Members of the Jaradah family work to tend the laws and flowers at the cemetery in Gaza.Image copyright

Meanwhile it’s a husband and wife team, Shadrack Paull and Lusia Axalte, that look after the cemetery at Morogoro in Tanzania.

in_pictures Shadrack Paull and Lusia Axalte stand holding hands among the graves at the cemetery in TanzaniaImage copyright

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There is something familiar but different about each site, the Commission says, with design often dictated by the climate

Ben More Assynt in north-west Scotland is the most remote war grave in the UK. In April 1941 an RAF Anson bomber crashed on the mountain killing all six crew on board.

The grave was originally marked with a cairn, a man-made stack of stones, which deteriorated over time. In 2012 they flew in a new granite marker by RAF helicopter to replace the original stones.

in_pictures Helicopter carrying the Ben More Asynt grave into placeImage copyright

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Ben More Assynt is one of 13,000 locations in the UK with a war grave

Continuing conflict can make the job of maintaining war graves more difficult.

However, the Commission has recently managed to restore hundreds of graves at Habbaniya war cemetery, west of Baghdad in Iraq.

There are 54,000 war dead remembered in Iraq alone.

in_pictures Two men working in blue boiler suits and yellow hard hats to restore graves in IraqImage copyright

War-torn Yemen is another challenging location. The CWGC was recently informed of vandalism at the Maala cemetery in the south of the country.

It says it has already made replacement grave markers, but is waiting for safe access to the site to carry out repairs.

in_pictures The Maala cemetery in Yemen is full of broken and dilapidated stonesImage copyright

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Currently it is not considered safe for Commission staff to undertake the necessary repair work

Encroachment is another problem. In Nairobi farmers have been using the Kariokor cemetery to dry cow hides for sale.

The CWGC says it is working with local authorities to find a long-term solution.

in_pictures Kairokor cemetery in Nairobi where cow hides surround the memorial.Image copyright

Though each cemetery has familiar themes with gardens and flowers, no two sites are exactly the same.

Portland stone is often used for the headstones at the large cemeteries in Belgium and France while in Scotland granite is often used.

In Turkey the graves are marked with plinths rather than headstones because of the harsher climate.

in_pictures A person in a headscarf uses electric tools to repair a plinth at Lone Pine Cemetery in Gallipoli, TurkeyImage copyright

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More than 1,200 Commonwealth soldiers are buried at Lone Pine Cemetery in Gallipoli

“Remembrance is still a living, breathing process,” says the CWGC.

It recently completed a memorial in Abuja, Nigeria, commemorating more than 2,000 Nigerian nationals who lost their lives serving with Commonwealth forces.

in_pictures Male and female soldiers in green and red uniforms stand in front of the memorial featuring flags and two statues in AbujaImage copyright

All pictures copyright of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.


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