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Commonwealth War Graves Commission Casualty List added to UNESCO Memory of the World Register

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To mark International Archives Day on 9 June, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and UNESCO announce the addition of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Casualty Archive to theUNESCO UK Memory of the World Register. 

The register, which promotes the sharing of knowledge for greater understanding and dialogue, recognises records of national significance. The archive will be formally added to the register at an inscription ceremony on 19 September 2018.

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The archive contains over 300,000 separate documents detailing the registration of the graves or memorials of the men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the First and Second World Wars. The records include Grave Registration Reports which record the burial locations and basic details of those individuals, such as their name, service number, rank, regiment, unit and date of death, and Burial Returns, which provide information as to where their remains were recovered and how they were identified.

They also include Headstone Schedules which were used to produce the final permanent headstone, and Final Verification reports. These reports were sent to the families of the war dead and in many cases contain poignant personal information such as confirmation of the loved ones chosen personal inscriptions for their loved ones headstones.

Personal correspondence

The archive also contains a small number of files of correspondence with the next of kin of some of those who are commemorated by the CWGC.

For example, a series of letters between the Imperial War Graves Commission (as it was at the time) and the family of Lieutenant Raymond Asquith, the son of the British Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith, survives in the collection.

Lieutenant Asquith, who was 37 years old at the time of his death, was killed on the battlefields of the Somme on 15 September 1916, and his death, during his father’s tenure as Prime Minister, was a devastating loss.

The letters reveals that Asquith’s “grave had waited its turn like all others for the headstone be erected, that isto say, the Commission had not dealt with it before the group of cemeteries in which it was situated”. It also includes a letter from his wife Katherine confirming her choice of personal inscription for his headstone fromShakespeare’s Henry V.

“Small time, but in that small most greatly lived this star of England”.

A world-first achievement

Dr Beth Taylor, Chair of the UK National Commission for UNESCO said “The Commonwealth War Graves Commission Casualty Archive is a monumental world-first achievement which movingly commemorates the sacrifice of all those who gave their lives for Britain and the former Empire in the First and Second World Wars.

"Its comprehensive coverage and egalitarian approach make it a very worthy addition to the register. I am delighted to celebrate its inscription today – one of six new inscriptions of richly varied archives from across the UK”.

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