The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) honours the 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the First and Second World Wars, and ensures they will never be forgotten. The Commission was set up to provide perpetual commemoration to those who had died during or as a result of service in the Commonwealth forces during WWI and WWII.
The CWGC has overhauled its website since 2008, therefore new information has been added to this wiki. Their comprehensive website says it all , but in principle they establish and maintain British and Commonwealth War Cemeteries, Memorials, and CWGC War Graves, all over the World.
You can search the CWGC online databases for war dead, memorials and cemetery records. Note that military service records and other records held by genealogy services or governments are not included. See Researching Your Military Ancestors for tracing military service records.
The CWGC war dead, memorials and cemetery databases - at home and abroad - are composed of documents recording the details and commemoration location of every casualty from the First and Second World Wars under the Commission's responsibilities, including personnel whose death occurred during service or was attributable to service, within the qualifying periods.
The CWGC cemetery database contains various information on cemeteries and memorials including 'the missing', at 23,000 locations, in more than 150 countries. In summary the CWGC maintains records for war dead, memorials and cemetery records (see FAQ).
Persons Commemorated by the CWGC
From their website FAQ:
The CWGC are responsible for the commemoration of personnel who died between 4 August 1914 and 31 August 1921 and 3 September 1939 and 31 December 1947 whilst serving in a Commonwealth military force or specified auxiliary organisation -
- Personnel who died between 4 August 1914 and 31 August 1921.
- Personnel who died between 3 September 1939 and 31 December 1947 after they were discharged from a Commonwealth military force.
- Commonwealth civilians who died between 3 September 1939 and 31 December 1947 as a consequence of enemy action, Allied weapons of war or whilst in an enemy prison camp.
- Many families and friends chose private memorials or headstones to commemorate deceased service personnel. If they qualify, burial records and brief details may be held by the CWGC.
- Military casualties buried in a CWGC grave are commemorated with a CWGC headstone or pedestal marker. If they have been identified, their military details are engraved in a standard layout.
- Some CWGC markers also have a religious emblem and personal inscription chosen by their family.
- CWGC records generally indicate a casualty’s military details, date of death, place of burial or commemoration and, in some instances, their age and the names and address of their next-of-kin.
Civilian War Dead Roll of Honour 1939 - 1945
Under a charter dated 7th February 1941, the Imperial War Graves Commission was empowered to collect and record the names of commonwealth civilians who died from enemy action during World War II. The Roll is kept in leather bound volumes at London's Westminster Abbey, and the civilian war dead records can be searched via the CWGC databases online.
- The Roll consists of leather-bound volumes containing printed details of over 65,000 fatalities. The lists are arranged by county, and then alphabetically. Another copy of the Roll is held by the Imperial War Museum and can be viewed by appointment in the Museum’s library.
- There have been several hundred new additions to the Roll in recent years, more information can be found on the Westminster Abbey website.
The criteria can be confusing but the In From The Cold Project (IFCP) sets out the basic criteria for a serviceman or woman to be accepted for war grave status and commemoration by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Only casualties from the two world wars are eligible for CWGC commemoration under specific qualifying conditions.
Memorials to the Missing and Private Memorials
- Those with no known grave in WWI are commemorated on one of the many Memorials to the Missing, according to where and when they died.
- Those with no known grave in WW2 are commemorated on one of the many Memorials to the Missing, according to where and when they died.
- Individuals who died away from the battlefield, or after they were discharged may have been buried by their family in a churchyard or civil cemetery and their grave marked by a private memorial.
- The Commission commemorates some 581,000 servicemen and women of the Second World War in cemeteries and memorials across the globe.
- The Commission Archive is split into two: The Commission Archive and The Casualty Archive, open to researchers and the general public by appointment at the CWGC Head Office in Maidenhead, Berkshire (contact).
- The CWGC website is continually growing and well worth exploring; it contains information on caring for sites, CWGC activities, CWGC News and Events, public engagements, and Apps. You can find out more at CWGC HELP.
- The CWGC only holds records relating to grave registration, cemetery and memorial registers and headstone schedules. Digital images of these can be seen with the entry for each casualty on the CWGC website. Codes and terms are listed on the CWGC Glossary.
Records Held by Other Archives
- First World War soldiers’ service and pension records can be searched via the UK National Archives.
- Digitised First World War records can be searched via the UK National Archives.
- Second World War service records are still held by the Ministry of Defence as they remain confidential; you may apply for a copy if you are the next-of-kin of a service person who has died. Applications forms are available online.
Related Arrsepedia Wikis
- Family Research Wiki.
"Clearing the Dead"- a fascinating paper on the the way it all came about (updated source).