Fabian Ware: a man who lived for the deads

1914, during the First World War Britain saw a huge devastating loss of its human resource. The civilians as volunteers together with the British arm force also served in the war. Not only British countrymen but also men from British colonies came overseas to fight the war. These men were so busy in fighting the war that no one bothered about their dead soldier’s bodies. The bodies were even not properly buried as they ought to be. Once the men fought the war and died they were forgotten. People in fact lost their sense of showing honour and respect to those who sacrificed their lives to save the country.

When the war ended the fallen bodies of dead servicemen could be found almost everywhere. Sometimes they were just left alone where they died. However, soldiers who held high military ranks and backgrounds their bodies were taken sometimes home for their interment. But the soldiers of ordinary backgrounds failed to enjoy such privileges after their death. This reminds of the famous Victorian novelist William Makepeace Thackeray’s words, “shovelled into a hole….and forgotten.”

The great purpose for which the soldiers sacrificed their lives was no longer remembered. It was sir Fabian Ware with whose initiative the forgotten deads of the war could regain their lost honour. Ware was born in 1869 at Clifton, Bristol. He received his Bachelier-es-Sciences latter in 1894 from the universities of London and Paris. In August 1949 he made an attempt to join the British arm force but was rejected since he was not young enough to join it. Therefore, he went to France where he became the commander of Mobile Ambulance Unit of the British Red Cross Society. Apart from their work of transporting the wounded soldiers from the war grounds his unit also started a search for the graves of those who were killed in war.

Latter on Ware’s Mobile Ambulance Unit’s only job was to find out soldier’s graves, mark them with a metal identification plate and a wooden cross. Afterwards, his unit’s name was changed to the Graves Registration Commission. The cemeteries were often destroyed by the war, ploughing and to and fro of the military troops. Approximately 27,000 British graves were found by the Grave Registration Commission between the month of May and October 1915 in the countryside of France and Belgium.

On one side the war was going on and on the other side Ware was too engaged to find out a permanent way to honour the dead soldiers. Then onwards Ware became the vice-chairman of the Imperial War Graves Commission which was founded in 1917. According to the policies of IWGC the graves of the soldiers should be uniform. Ware was against disinterred of the dead bodies. According to him the bodies of the soldiers should be interred in the corner of the foreign land where they died. Ware wanted all the graveyards and monuments to the missing to be designed by the best architects as well as to be constructed by the finest materials.

Because of his Calvinist upbringing he believed strongly in democracy. He believed that after death every man is equal. Therefore he insisted on uniformity of shape and size of every headstone despite of religion or rank of the dead bodies. However, some group of people were against of Ware’s style of headstone which were non-denominational and elongated. Therefore on one side the Anglican Church wanted cross as the symbol of remembrance. And on the other side the general people wanted their dead men’s victories to be inscribed on stone.

Ware challenged the trend of that time and he won it as well. During the battle of Passchendaele when a colonel started discussing about the IWGC’s proposals with his battalion the unanimous decision which came out as a result was that everyone wanted to be buried together in the uniform graves.

By now the headstones were also allowed to have a little amount of individuality such as a name, regiment and rank. And if the family member or relatives of the dead soldiers wanted to inscribe a short epitaph they had to pay for it.

With Ware’s dedication towards creating cemeteries we could get 400,000 headstones and more than 500 permanent cemeteries by the year 1927. For him cemeteries were not just the storage place for the dead they were in fact the gardens of remembrance. These cemeteries were beautifully planted with flowers and trees, the Express reports.

At last it was Sir Fabian Ware’s revolutionary step because of which these war deads could receive such a glorious tribute even after their death. Those soldiers who were missing in the war their names were also inscribed on the magnificent memorial monuments. Perhaps it won’t be wrong to say that Fabian Ware was the man behind the immortality of the war deads.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE