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Centenary of Commonwealth War Graves Commission marked at Westminster Abbey service

Westminster Abbey provided the majestic setting this week for a Service of Thanksgiving to mark the centenary of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The Maidenhead-based organisation was set up during the darkest days of the First World War, on May 21, 1917. It has since worked tirelessly to ensure the 1.7million people who died in that war and the Second World War will never be forgotten.

The commission has been marking the 100- year milestone with a series of events, including the service on Tuesday.

Guests at the Abbey included members of the military, dignitaries and staff and representatives of the commission, as well as the Duke of Kent, who is its president.

They passed the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, an unidentified First World War casualty whose burial there represents all those lost in the Great War. It was specially decorated with flowers for the occasion.

The service began with a minute’s silence in tribute to the victims of the Manchester terror attack on Monday.

The commission’s Royal Charter Supplement, carried by its archivist Andrew Fetherston, and two Civilian War Dead Rolls were processed through the Abbey and presented to the Dean at the High Altar.

More than 67,000 names are carried on the pages of the Rolls of Honour, bearing the names and ages of those lost in the Second World War.

Speakers at the service included Alexander Downer, Australian High Commissioner to the UK, and Janice Charette, Canadian High Commissioner to the UK, who read John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders Fields.

The commission’s chairman Sir Michael Fallon and vice-chairman Sir Tim Laurence both gave readings.

Music at the service included a performance by the London Maori Club, performing a song which was sung by the men of the 28th (Maori) Battalion before and after the battle at Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli in August 1915.

The commission was largely the vision of one man, Fabian Ware, who felt compelled to ensure the final resting places of Great War casualties were never forgotten.

Commission director general Victoria Wallace said: “The story of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is one the whole world should take pride in.

“That governments in 1917, amid the chaos and carnage of the First World War, had the vision to design, build and care for an estate of cemeteries and memorials of such beauty was a fitting testimony to their gratitude to all those who died for their countries.

“I hope everyone will help the CWGC celebrate the astonishing and enduring achievement which is now moving into its second century.”

The commission cares for cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations, in 154 countries, and its workforce includes 850 gardeners.

This year its horticultural expertise has extended to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, where it has been awarded a silver medal in the artisan garden category.

Its garden was funded by private donations and designed by horticulturist David Domoney in collaboration with commission director of horticulture David Richardson.

Many of the garden’s features are symbolic, including the Portland stone steps and coping stones which are made from reclaimed First World War headstones and two statues recycled from the commission’s Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

The garden itself uses familiar plant species seen in commission cemeteries in northern Europe and which were used to adorn Westminster Abbey for the service on Tuesday.

You can vote for the garden to win the show’s People’s Choice Award. Visit blog.cwgc.org/

chelsea for details.

The commission has a centenary exhibition running at its Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey, which was opened by actor Brian Blessed at the weekend.

Called For Then, For Now, Forever, it runs until November.

Visit www.cwgc.org for more information.

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