For the Fallen

“In the erection of memorials on the graves there should be no distinction between between officers and men.” So said General Sir Nevil Macready with reference to the style of memorial set up to remember fallen soldiers from World War I.

In this centenary year, it is interesting to think that until the 1914-18 war, there was no method of commemorating the dead. Wealthy families might be able to find and repatriate their sons but the vast majority of soldiers suffered an undignified mass burial where they died, with, at best, a general memorial of some kind, erected by the regiment.

In 1914, Fabian Ware was too old for active service, so he enlisted with the Red Cross. Keeping a note of those who died was part of his job but it was only later that his dissatisfaction with the makeshift markings of graves led to him organising his unit to mark and care for all the graves they could find. Every week, his unit received requests for information as to the whereabouts of missing members of the military and his work began to be perceived to be of great importance, both at home and amongst surviving soldiers, in maintaining morale.

In 1917, the Imperial (renamed Commonwealth in 1960) War Graves Commission was born. Decisions were made not to repatriate soldiers but to allow them to rest with their comrades, and to enlist distinguished artists such as Rudyard Kipling, Edwin Lutyens, Herbert Baker, Reginald Blomfield and Gertrude Jekyll to design the memorials.

In 1920, the first three experimental cemeteries were established with Forceville becoming the template for a programme of building that would take until 1938 to complete. These ‘silent cities’ as Rudyard Kipling called them are to be found in 153 countries around the world, where they are visited by millions  every year.

The book, For the Fallen, celebrates these cemeteries through the photographs of Michael St Maur Shiel, who has also been documenting the battlefields of the First World War. A paragraph or two by Peter Francis explains the story behind the cemetery – not all are on battlefields. Edinburgh’s Rosebank Cemetery, for example, commemorates Britain’s worst rail crash when 200 soldiers of the 1st/7th Battalion The Royal Scots died on their way to Gallipoli. Another cemetery of interest to Lothian Life readers is that of Queensferry, where just under 200 lie, mostly naval personnel who died in the Battle of Jutland. But the majority of those who perished still lie under the sea, and it is memorials such as this that give relatives and survivors somewhere to go to grieve and to remember.

This beautifully designed book is a fitting record of the work of the Commission. Cover image by Peter Francis and Michael St Maur Sheil (AA Publishing, £25) For the Fallen is available as a hardback book only and can be found here on Amazon
Recently, Commonwealth War Graves Commission founder Sir Fabian Ware has been recognised with a blue plaque in his honour at his former London address .

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Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

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