The permanent cemeteries

The military authorities soon started to group together graves in those areas which were no longer affected by combat. They built larger cemeteries to facilitate the registration and maintenance of these graves.

Most British cemeteries, however, were only built at the end of the war by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (C.W.G.C.), which was founded in 1917. The Commission was in charge of grouping all the isolated graves of fallen soldiers in cemeteries of which it oversaw the construction. The British decided not to repatriate any bodies of soldiers who died during the Great War. Instead they chose to bury them as close as possible to the place where they died, in cemeteries built along the same architectural lines as defined by the C.W.G.C.

In France a heated debate ensued at the end of the conflict on the fate of the soldiers who had been buried in temporary cemeteries. Some people were in favour of leaving their bodies in these graves, alongside their comrades who died with them, on the battlefields where their lives were prematurely ended. Others wanted the bodies to be returned to their families. In the end a compromise was found. On July 31st, 1920, the French Government decided to establish national cemeteries. Under the Decree of September 20th, 1920, however, the French Government authorized families that wished to repatriate the bodies of their fallen family members, to do this at the expense of the State.

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  • Cover of "The Graves of the Fallen", 1919, book, coll. Linge © P&K Linge

    This book was written by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936). In it he describes the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s work. He also insisted on the importance of creating memorials for those soldiers whose bodies were never found. His son was one of the missing soldiers. He was killed during the Battle of Loos in 1915.

  • The reburial of the bodies of soldiers, 1919, postcard, collection of Father Courtois/Caverne du Dragon-Musée du Chemin des Dames, Aisne

    After the war the bodies of the fallen soldiers were grouped in official cemeteries. The bodies of 300,000 French soldiers were returned to their families in keeping with the law enacted in September 1920. The armies relied on colonial labour or foreign labour to perform the difficult job of reburying these bodies.

  • Caron Achille (1888-1947), Construction of the British Cemetery at Etaples, first quarter of the 20th century, glass plate, © Musée Quentovic – Ville d’Etaples-sur-Mer

    White tombstones have been placed as markers on the graves in British cemeteries. When there are more than 40 graves a Cross of Sacrifice, designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield (1856-1942), is added to the cemetery. A Stone of Remembrance is typically found in cemeteries with over 400 graves. It bears an inscription selected by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936): "Their names liveth for ever more".

The Graves of the Fallen. Imperial War Graves Commissionreburial of the bodies of soldiersconstruction of the British cemetery at Etaples