ALMOST a million British soldiers died in the First World War.
Some died alone, killed by a chance shell or grenade or bullet, many died together as they attacked or defended against attack.
The varying nature of the men’s deaths in the front line and the specific conditions at the time of their death meant that their ultimate fates differed widely.
One Gloucestershire man is responsible for the system of marking and recording the graves of fallen soldiers and for introducing the two-tag identification system used by the military.
Major General Sir Fabian Ware is buried in Holy Trinity Churchyard, Amberley, where his own grave is marked by a War Graves Commission headstone.
Too old to be accepted for army duty, Fabian Ware arrived in France in command of a mobile unit of the British Red Cross in September 1914. He was quickly struck by the lack of any organisation responsible for the marking and recording of the graves of fallen soldiers and became determined that this should change.
With his persistence, the War Office realised that proper care of the war graves would boost the morale of troops at the front and comfort relatives at home.
Sir Fabian set up the Graves Registration Commission and in 1915 both he and his organisation were transferred from the Red Cross to the Army.
By October 1915, the new organisation had over 31,000 graves registered, and 50,000 by May 1916.
Ware received help from horticulturalists at Kew and from the most famous architects of the day on how the cemeteries and memorials should be designed to best commemorate the sacrifice of Commonwealth forces. Prior to Ware’s intervention a fallen soldier would have his tag removed to send home to the family which then made the job of identifying him for burial extremely difficult. Ware came up with the idea of a double tag where one was removed on the battlefield and the other left with the body.
As the war continued, Ware became concerned about the fate of the graves after the war. With the help of Edward Prince of Wales, in 1917, he submitted a memorandum on the subject to the Imperial War Conference.
On 21 May 1917, the Imperial War Graves Commission was created by a Royal Charter with the Prince of Wales as its president and Ware as its vice-chairman, a role that Ware held until his retirement in 1948. During the war, Fabian Ware was twice mentioned in despatches and ended the war as a major general.
In 1920 he became a knight of two orders in recognition of his tireless work during the Great War. After the war he explained his motivation saying: “Common remembrance of the dead [of the Great War] is the one thing, sometimes the only thing, that never fails to bring our people together.”
He died at home at Amberley, shortly after his retirement. His grave has a CWGC-style headstone and is maintained by the commission. There are also memorial tablets to him in the Warrior’s Chapel at Westminster Abbey and Gloucester Cathedral.