Format for CWGC Gravestones

Once the Imperial War Graves Commission (later the CWGC) took over the cemeteries, the temporary wooden or metal crosses were replaced by the final gravestones.

These markers had a single format, aiming at uniformity because the principle underlying the work was that all the dead were equal.

Coates crew graves in December 2014

The one individual facet was at the base of the stone, where the four lines chosen by the relatives (if they opted to make a personal tribute) were engraved.

The opportunity to say something personal seems to have been highly valued by most families. Many of the tributes are extremely touching. Some are high-flown, some poetic, some absolutely personal, such as that for Corporal J R Martin of the Rifle Brigade, who was killed on 21 July 1944 and buried at Banneville-la-Campagne. It is written almost in the form of a note by his wife, Joan, and his mother:

Parted by fate.

You and our baby Jackie.

Will meet you again.

Joan, mum.

However, these personal tributes were not permitted for New Zealanders; their Government continued the policy it had adopted for First World War graves and denied the relatives this tiny consolation.*


* After the First World War the New Zealand government decided that the proposed charge to the families for engraving the tributes (a charge which was only partially implemented and then dropped altogether) worked against the principle of equality; this position then had to be maintained for the following war, otherwise there would have been unequal treatment for the dead of the two World Wars. See Grant Tobin, ‘Personal Inscriptions’, New Zealand Communication Trench (June 2011), pp.11-14.

There are, however, a few First World War exceptions to the New Zealand ban, for example at Courcelles-au-Bois cemetery in France.