TV & Radio
Monday 5 November, 9pm BBC Four (repeated on BBC One Wales on Tuesday 6 November)
All the must-see/hear programmes
The sight of neat and well-tended rows of war graves in foreign fields is so familiar to us that we rarely stop to think about how curious it is that so many British and Commonwealth soldiers are buried overseas. In We Will Remember Them, which is part of extensive programming across BBC networks to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War, Huw Edwards explains how this came about.
It’s a story that begins with the British state banning the return of its bodies for burial. This was hugely controversial because bereaved families in Britain and across the empire were unable to inter their loved ones close to home, and a British women’s protest movement campaigned to have this ruling overturned.
Similar campaigns succeeded in other countries so that, for example, the bodies of approximately 300,000 French soldiers were repatriated to local towns and villages. So what was different in the UK?
The answer lies in the vision of Fabian Ware (1869–1949), a Red Cross officer on the Western Front, who was instrumental in banning families from retrieving the bodies of the fallen. If that seems harsh, it’s worth noting that only the well-todo could afford to do this, as footage of the funeral of William Gladstone, grandson of the former prime minister, illustrates.
It was Ware who, virtually singlehandedly, created the Imperial (later Commonwealth) War Graves Commission in 1917. His aim was that remembrance should be democratic so that those who fought together should rest together close to where they fell, no matter what their social rank.
Sadly, for much of the 1920s and 1930s it was prohibitively expensive for ordinary people to visit the last resting places of loved ones. And yet, in an age of cheap international travel, Ware’s idea of “gardens of remembrance” has come of age.
This is illustrated by the story of William Parry, who fell in the Battle of Pilckem Ridge on 31 July 1917 along with the Welsh poet Hedd Wyn. For years his family laid a wreath on the anniversary of his death in the village chapel where he used to worship. However, for the centenary of his death his great niece Gwyneth Evans travelled to Belgium to lay a wreath of poppies, an emotional occasion captured on camera.
Huw Edwards tells the story of the memorials to those who died in WW1