The original IWGC Royal Charter (1917). © CWGC.
At the suggestion of the Army, the British government created a special body to take over from the DGRE after the war. Fabian Ware felt this should be an Empire-wide organisation, and on 21 May 1917 the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) was established by Royal Charter. The Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) was appointed President, while Ware became the Vice-Chairman. It was tasked with not only formalising the cemeteries and creating memorials to the missing, but also maintaining these sites forever more.
In July 1917, a working party toured the Somme battlefields to determine how the formal cemeteries and memorials should take shape. Key Commission figures in attendance included:
Fabian Ware (1869-1949)
Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944)
Herbert Baker (1862-1946)
Report on the 1917 working party visit to France © CWGC.
The report of the 1917 trip makes interesting reading because it sets out what would become core principles of Commission design – marking every individual grave in a permanent material and having the “dominating feature” of a cross in the cemeteries – yet also details decisions that were not fulfilled.
Reginald Blomfield (1856 – 1942)
These include formally classifying the cemeteries into four categories: “large monumental”, “garden or Forest”, “Town” with a cloister, and “Village and country”.
Soon Lutyens and Baker would become official ‘Principal Architects’ of the Commission, along with another leading name of the era, Reginald Blomfield.
Noyelles-sur-Mer Chinese Cemetery Report.
It was not only in the world of architecture that Ware consulted the highest sources of authority: Arthur Hill, the Assistant Director (later Director) of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, was the Commission’s first Botanical Advisor. He advised on how to plant the cemeteries according to different climatic conditions and national plants. Kew also provided some plants in our early years, helping to shape the distinctive English country garden style of our sites that is maintained today.
A horticultural plan for Delville Wood Cemetery. © CWGC.
Ware also needed a voice for the Commission – someone the public admired and trusted, who would not only provide powerful inscriptions for headstones and memorials, but also advocate for our work. Step forward the Nobel Prize-winning writer Rudyard Kipling…