Empires of the dead

David Crane

How one man's vision led to the creation of World War One's graves.

Before the First World War, little provision was made for the burial of Commonwealth soldiers - they were often unceremoniously dumped in a mass grave while the body of higher ranked officers were shipped home to be buried in local cemeteries. The great cemeteries of the First World came about as a result of the efforts of one inspired visionary. In 1914, Fabian Ware, at 45, was too old to enlist. Instead, he joined the Red Cross, working on the frontline in France. There he was horrified by the undignified end to the lives of many of the soldiers who, buried hastily, were often lost as the battlelines moved backward and forward over the same ground. Ware recorded their identity and the position of their graves. His work was quickly officially recognised, and the setting up of a Graves Registration Commission followed. As reports of their work became public, the Commission was flooded with letters from grieving relatives around the world. Acclaimed author David Crane gives a profoundly moving account of the creation of these war graves, which involved leading figures of the day. It is the story of both cynical political motivation, as governments sought to justify the sacrifices made, as well as the outpouring of great personal grief, following the 'war to end all wars'.

Empires of the Dead by David Crane was shortlisted for the 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize, the UK's most prestigious non-fiction award.

Hard cover, photographs, 289 pages.