Commonwealth War Graves Commission War Graves Week CREDIT CWGC
War Graves Week helps to shine a spotlight on CWGC (Picture: CWGC).
History

War Graves Week: Encouraging people to explore local cemeteries

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission hopes the week will honour all who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission War Graves Week CREDIT CWGC
War Graves Week helps to shine a spotlight on CWGC (Picture: CWGC).

People are being encouraged to pay their respects to the fallen and discover the military heritage on their doorstep by visiting their local cemeteries during War Graves Week.

The initiative by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission aims to shine a spotlight on CWGC and the people who work tirelessly to keep alive the memory of the Commonwealth's war dead.

Both military and civilian communities in the UK, France, Belgium, Malta and the Netherlands, are being encouraged to discover the world war heritage on their doorstep by being invited to visit their local cemeteries between 21 and 28 May.

Watch: The Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorates people who served in the Commonwealth armed forces during the First or Second World War.

The CWGC's mission is to honour the 1.7 million people across both world wars who made the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield, ensuring they are never forgotten. 

The organisation's aim, since it was founded by Royal Charter in 1917, has been to ensure that each person who died during the First and Second World War is buried with full military honours, in a grave that is meticulously maintained.

For more than 100 years, the CWGC has undertaken the gargantuan task of identifying hundreds of thousands of war dead, many of whom cannot be easily identified as they were buried where they fell alongside their comrades in hastily dug graves.

The job is made even more difficult because some war records are inaccurate or completely missing.

Former SAS soldier and SAS Who Dares Wins Directing Staff Colin MacLachlan visiting South Queensferry Cemetery CREDIT CWGC
Former SAS soldier and SAS Who Dares Wins Directing Staff Colin MacLachlan visiting South Queensferry Cemetery near Edinburgh, Scotland (Picture: CWGC).

Colin MacLachlan, former SAS soldier and SAS Who Dares Wins Directing Staff spoke to Jess Bracey, a BFBS the Forces Station broadcaster, about his involvement with War Graves Week, saying: "The last couple years has shown us that there's a lot right on our doorstep. 

"I was able to see that, right next to us at South Queensferry, there's a war grave up there with 188 war graves, absolutely pristinely kept and managed. 

"I bumped into Scott who is one of only three people who keep all the war graves in great condition throughout Scotland."

Of the 1.7 million men and women who fought and died for the Commonwealth, the CWGC cares for more than 1.1 million graves at more than 23,000 locations across 150 countries and territories. 

There are hundreds of thousands more men and women still yet to be identified and honoured for their sacrifice, a job the CWGC still does to this day, 76 years after the end of the Second World War. 

When asked why it is so important for both military and civilians to visit their local cemeteries and learn about the war dead buried in them, Colin said: "It's more fascinating when it's local tours. We can relate to it. 

"We can see that that's something we could easily followed in those through steps had been around in different times. 

"Things like Ukraine have shown us that we're never too far from being drawn into something like that again, so I think to bear that in mind, the sacrifices that people made, not to forget them. 

"I think it's a great thing because we have Remembrance Day, which is one day of the year, but I think to see what's immediately around you, how it affected your local area, I think that's really important and we can all relate to that." 

Commonwealth War Graves Commission War Graves Week Menin Gate CREDIT CWGC
People gather to pay their respects at the Menin Gate Memorial in France (Picture: CWGC).

Despite the vast number of war dead, the CWGC commemorates each individual and has an app people can download to help search for specific people and where they are buried. Colin said: "I think it's fascinating to see firstly how many there are – there are 23,000 locations across the world – how they're kept, all the details that are on there and how, you know, a century ago that could have been you. 

"The theme that they've got for ... this week is 'ordinary people, extraordinary times' and I think if we were back in those times a century ago, we could easily have found ourselves in those footsteps. 

"I was interested in one particular case, Private Martin Tierney who was a Royal Scot just like me, from South Queensferry, just like me. 

"He died in 1918 and you can almost transport yourself back to those times. 

"Everybody had to sort of pick up a gun, a hard hat or a pitchfork and do their bit and so yeah, it's fascinating times and great to see that is being commemorated."

Malta Imtarfa Military Cemetery Commonwealth War Graves George Cross 80th anniversary Picture BFBS
Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta (Picture: BFBS).

Discover what the Commonwealth War Graves Commission are up to this week and see how other people are getting involved by using the hashtag #WarGravesWeek on social media platforms.

To find a CWGC site near you, download the app here.

Alternatively, there is a list of events near you here.