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Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Megan

Have you ever wondered where your ancestors killed in action are buried?  In war, especially the First World and Second World Wars, the dead remained in the country in which they died. Sometimes there was no record of where they were buried.  In some cases, there were details of the person’s death and their exact burial position and in the years following the wars their bodies were exhumed and moved into cemeteries.  The organisation responsible for this is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

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Who are they?

Commonwealth War Graves Commission Worldwide Map of Cemeteries and Memorials

Fig.1 – Commonwealth War Graves Commission Worldwide Map of Cemeteries and Memorials – Courtesy of CWGC Website

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is responsible for the registration and recording of the graves and memorials of 1.7 million women and men who died in World Wars 1 and 2.1  These graves and memorials of these brave people are located in 153 countries at 23,000 sites.2  Fig.1 shows a worldwide map of the locations of all the memorials and graves that they maintain.3  As you can see from this map there is barely a country where a memorial does not exist.

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The CWGC was the inspiration of Sir Fabian Ware who, too old to fight in WWI, headed a British Red Cross unit.4  He was saddened by the great loss of life and was concerned that the war dead, being buried in unmarked graves, would be forgotten.5  Through his dedication, the graves of many military personnel were identified allowing for the permanent commemoration of them as we know it today.6

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Robert Hilton Matheson, WWI, France

Robert Hilton Matheson, K.I.A. 23 May 1918

Following the ceasing of hostilities in 1918 the war dead were scattered across many countries and the CWGC was tasked with identifying these individuals.7  In many cases, the dead had been buried in cemeteries established near the battlefields, and these graves were simply recorded and registered.8  However, there were many, many more who were in unidentified graves or not buried at all.9  This is when concentration cemeteries were created and the Grave Concentration Units went about exhuming and reburying the war dead in these newly created cemeteries.10 During this process, they worked to identify each and every person but due to the circumstances of war, this was not always possible.11

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How the CWGC Website can help you

Robert Hilton Matheson CWGC Search Record

Fig.2 – Robert Hilton Matheson CWGC Search Record – courtesy of CWGC Website

Searching

As a result of this meticulous record keeping, we have a great resource to search and find the burial place of our military ancestors.  On the CWGC website, you can search for a cemetery or a person. It is very quick and simple to do.  I will use my great-great-uncle Robert Hilton Matheson as an example.  It is very easy for you to search for your ancestor using the same techniques.  I put his name in the search engine and got one successful hit (see Fig.2) outlining his rank, service number, date of death, his regiment, and the cemetery.12 He died on 23 May 1918 and is buried at Ribemont Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, France.13

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Commemorative Certificate
Robert Hilton Matheson CWGC Commemorative Certificate

Fig.3 – Robert Hilton Matheson CWGC Commemorative Certificate – courtesy of CWGC Website


When I click on his record I’m taken into a more detailed summary of his information.14  It outlines where he is from, his parent’s names, the inscription on his grave, and the option to download a commemorative certificate (see Fig.3).15

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Commonwealth War Graves Commission Ribemont Cemetery Information

Fig.4 – Commonwealth War Graves Commission Ribemont Cemetery Information – Courtesy of CWGC Website

Cemetery Information

This page also gives me the option to get further information on the Ribemont Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme including a plan and photos of the cemetery (see Fig.4).16  He is buried with another 197 Australian soldiers.17

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Original Documents
CWGC Archives Grave Registration, Concentration, Headstone

Fig.5 – CWGC Archives – Courtesy of CWGC Website

Scrolling to the bottom of the page I come across a CWGC Archives (see Fig.5).18  Here I find original documents pertaining to Robert’s burial – Grave Registration Report, Concentration, and Headstone.  These original documents, that you can download, provide information about the burial.19  It includes details on his exhumation, burial, and what is inscribed on his headstone.20

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Just follow the steps above to search for your ancestor.  However, if you have issues with searching the CWGC has a great page with videos on how to search their site.

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Apps

The site has two free apps.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission AppWar Graves app – Available for Android and IOS, this app allows you to search for any CWGC cemetery by name, locality, or country in the world.21  Just select the cemetery you are interested in and it provides you with information about that cemetery.22  There is also a map to show you where it is and a plan of the actual cemetery.23

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Commonwealth War Graves Commission Thiepval AppThiepval app – Available for IOS this app is essential if you are travelling to the Somme to visit the Thiepval Memorial – the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.  This app will help you to easily find where a soldier’s name is located in the memorial, the largest Commonwealth war memorial in the world.24  You will also find stories of some of these men in the app.25

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Interact with CWGC

As with most organisations these days you can interact with them and keep up-to-date on what they are doing via:

Facebook

Instagram

Twitter

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The best thing I love about the CWGC site is how easy it is to find the information.  You are able to do a search and get information about your ancestor and their burial place in seconds.  This is a great genealogy task to do when you have limited time but want to work on your tree.  In under 30-minutes, you will have your ancestors name, rank, regiment, date of death, burial place, and details of the cemetery where they are buried.  Great for those days when you want to do some genealogy research but don’t have a lot of time available to you.

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Head over to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site today and find the final resting place of your ancestor.  Let me know in the comments below about your WWI and WWII heroes!

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Find My Past Hero Ancestors Records


  1. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘About Us’, https://www.cwgc.org/about-us, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘About Us’, https://www.cwgc.org/about-us, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  3. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘War Graves Map’, https://www.cwgc.org/-/media/files/cwgc/about-us/war_graves_map_v_large.ashx?la=en&hash=0AF81891111DE86318823DF53C390E83750D29B4, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  4. Commonwealth War Graves Commision, ‘History of the CWGC’, https://www.cwgc.org/about-us/history-of-the-cwgc, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  5. Commonwealth War Graves Commision, ‘History of the CWGC’, https://www.cwgc.org/about-us/history-of-the-cwgc, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  6. Commonwealth War Graves Commision, ‘History of the CWGC’, https://www.cwgc.org/about-us/history-of-the-cwgc, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  7. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘About Our Records’, https://www.cwgc.org/about-us/records, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  8. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘About Our Records’, https://www.cwgc.org/about-us/records, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  9. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘About Our Records’, https://www.cwgc.org/about-us/records, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  10. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘About Our Records’, https://www.cwgc.org/about-us/records, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  11. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘About Our Records’, https://www.cwgc.org/about-us/records, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  12. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘War Dead Records’, https://www.cwgc.org/search-results?term=Robert%20Hilton%20Matheson&name=Robert%20Hilton%20Matheson&fullname=Robert%20Hilton%20Matheson, accessed 25 February 2018.
  13. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘War Dead Records’, https://www.cwgc.org/search-results?term=Robert%20Hilton%20Matheson&name=Robert%20Hilton%20Matheson&fullname=Robert%20Hilton%20Matheson, accessed 25 February 2018.
  14. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘Casualty’, https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/43584/matheson,-robert-hilton/, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  15. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘Casualty’, https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/43584/matheson,-robert-hilton/, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  16. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘Ribemont Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme’, https://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/4604/ribemont-communal-cemetery-extension,-somme/, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  17. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘Ribemont Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme’, https://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/4604/ribemont-communal-cemetery-extension,-somme/, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  18. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘Casualty’, https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/43584/matheson,-robert-hilton/, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  19. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘Casualty’, https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/43584/matheson,-robert-hilton/, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  20. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘Casualty’, https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/43584/matheson,-robert-hilton/, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  21. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘War Graves App’, https://www.cwgc.org/learn/our-apps/war-graves-app, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  22. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘War Graves App’, https://www.cwgc.org/learn/our-apps/war-graves-app, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  23. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘War Graves App’, https://www.cwgc.org/learn/our-apps/war-graves-app, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  24. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘Thiepval App’, https://www.cwgc.org/learn/our-apps/thiepval-app, Accessed 25 February 2018.
  25. Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ‘Thiepval App’, https://www.cwgc.org/learn/our-apps/thiepval-app, Accessed 25 February 2018.
Author:

14 Comments

  1. Penelope
    PenelopeReply
    March 5, 2018 at 7:33 am

    What a great service to everyone who passed and thought they’d be forgotten, I appreciate how well-researched and meticulous this article is. Thanks for the great info for anyone looking for ancestral graves around the world!

    • Megan
      March 5, 2018 at 10:50 am

      Hi Penelope
      Thank you for your kind words. I want to be able to give people information that is helpful and easy to understand. It is wonderful that Sir Fabian Ware had the foresight at the time of WWI to kick this project off. We are so fortunate that we live in an era of being able to access this information from anywhere in the world!
      Regards,
      Megan

  2. Andrew Bromley
    Andrew BromleyReply
    March 8, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    WW1 war graves is a subject that strikes a real cord for me. I have found records of my maternal great grandfather who was fatally wounded in the first world war but died in a military hospital of his wounds in Manchester.England. The war graves commission should be supported for all it is trying to achieve. As a genealogist myself,i really appreciate your post.

    • Megan
      MeganReply
      March 9, 2018 at 6:03 am

      Hi Andrew

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.  WWI destroyed so many families.  My maternal great-grandmother lost one of her brothers in France.  I am so glad that he is being looked after by the CWGC.  I hope they can continue their great work into the future.

      Regards,

      Megan

  3. Christina
    March 24, 2018 at 10:14 pm

    I know our family has a strong military background. This is such a benefit towards genealogy research and family record keeping as well. I have two aunts that have been doing a lot of research into our family history. I am going to refer them to your site. I know they would find some great value in this research. Many of our relatives still held citizenship in different countries during WW1 and WW2 and served. It can make research stall. This will really help.

    • Megan
      March 25, 2018 at 10:20 am

      Hi Christina
      Thank you for reading and commenting and for your kind words. I really hope that my site can bring value to others. WWI and WWII really started to see the mass migration of people between nations simply so they could survive. We need to learn lessons from this.
      Regards,
      Megan

  4. Michelle
    March 24, 2018 at 11:27 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Megan. I can certainly identify with this article. I live in a small town where every day there is a ‘post service’ at 8 pm for the war veterans and there is always a crowd at the event. They come from all over the world to pay homage to the past – in more ways than one. Yes, our past creates our future and yes, it is ok to see where we have been.
    Thanks again for bringing this to the forefront.
    Michelle

    • Megan
      March 25, 2018 at 10:19 am

      Hi Michelle
      That is so great that your small town commemorates your war veterans like that. I think people too easily forget the sacrifices they made for us.
      Regards,
      Megan

  5. DianneBee
    March 25, 2018 at 12:17 am

    What a tremendously valuable service. I can’t begin to imagine the number of families who will get some comfort from this.

    • Megan
      March 25, 2018 at 10:18 am

      Hi Dianne
      I think it is a wonderful program. It is amazing that during all the destruction of WWI that Sir Fabian Ware had the foresight to set this up. Those of us with ancestors who have been identified and commemorated are forever in his debt. I am grateful to know that there is a gravesite in the world that I can go visit my great-great-uncle Robert Hilton Matheson when I have the money.
      Regards,
      Megan

  6. Fred
    March 25, 2018 at 2:12 am

    Another good blog about our ancestors Megan. This is how I keep informed with these old cemeteries with unmarked graves. I don’t know if I had any ancestors in the war. Going to have to look that up someday.

    • Megan
      March 25, 2018 at 10:14 am

      Hi Fred
      I love hearing about my war ancestors. It is so great to know that someone I am related to fought for my freedom. I take pride in that. I hope that you are able to search for yours too.
      Regards,
      Megan

  7. anne collyer
    March 25, 2018 at 3:04 pm

    Hi, Thank you. One of the toughest parts for many is to know what happened and then to be able to honor itl Good information to help that process!

    • Megan
      March 25, 2018 at 3:07 pm

      Hi Anne
      I’m so glad that you have found this post helpful. I love that we have this resource at our fingertips to find our hero ancestors final resting places.
      Regards,
      Megan

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