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Remembered Today:

Overgrown Graves in UK


PhilB
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Phil

I was recently at the Jewish Cemetery in Blackley, Manchester and was chatting with the "caretaker".

He told me the Commission ring him up every year and contract with him to clean the headstones of algae and so on. They come and inspect a few weeks afterwards.

John

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We have a similar problem at our local grave yard there is over 100 CWGC war grave's.

The local council cut and maintain the surrounding area but unfortunatley catch the grave stones as they strim the grass round the grave's

At our next meeting we will be handing a report concerning mare's tail growing in and around the grave's.

I am part of a small group who dedicate our time trying to protect and keep these CWGC Grave's clean. and carry out inspection

The last inspection one of our team reported damage to the local rep for the CWGC who kindly met up and also carried out a inspection they promised to report back and carry out any repairs.

It is up to every member if they see neglected war grave's to report this to the CWGC and request they visit the site

Geoff

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errrm, errrm which cemetery is this ??????????????????????????

(Sorry folks, private joke I have with Geoff)

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I was visiting a local cemetery in Newtownabbey, County Antrim and the local council were grass cutting the CWGC graves as well as the civilian graves. So well done Newtownabbey Borough Council.

Regards,

Phil

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As a student I had a summer job as a gardener in a cemetery in Brighton and it was made clear to me that there was a contract to keep the war graves tidy and in every way respectable, and we did so with great pride. It was of course an introduction to what has become a lifelong obsession!

Chris

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Mmmm. Why are the CWGC cemeteries in France, Belgium and other parts of the world in excellent condition and meticulously maintained while some of the CWGC graves in the UK are in such a sorry state? It seems to me that all CWGC graves should be accorded the same standards of maintenance irrespective of their location. Is it councils pocketing the contract funds and doing the minimum required or are they not funded properly?

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If, as JH says, the contract is only to clean the gravestone, it`s easy to imagine that many or most councils would do no more. Can anyone confirm that the contracts are generally only for stone cleaning and not for grave tidying?

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To elaborate on Geoff Greensmith's post.

The CWGC pay a nominal fee to our local cemetery friends group for keeping down the weeds and vegetation etc. Any repairs and cleaning of the actual headstones both private and commission type is undertaken by the CWGC, but there is nothing stopping us carefully removing bird droppings and similar pollutants. As Geoff points out, the onus is on our group to report any damage or vandalism and the response is normally quite fast and positive.

Anyone can contact the CWGC if they see a headstone damaged or the inscription faded/obliterated and the matter will be rectified within a reasonable time limit.

Peter

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I had a similar problem with a local churchyard (see here posts 5 and 17)and wrote to the CWGC. Very quickly a reply came back, part of which says:

"The responsibility of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is the maintenance of the war graves and the headstones themselves and does not extend to the condition of the graveyard or cemetery as a whole. We do, however, work closely with many church and cemetery authorities in order to encourage them to maintain the whole site.

I will pass your comments and kind offer of assistance on to the Regional Supervisor for his information and action where necessary."

Within a few weeks the area around the War Graves had been roughly strimmed by the Parish. It is fair to say, though, the upkeep of church graveyards is usually the responsibility of the Parish, not the Council. Quite often it's a man-power problem.

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"The responsibility of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is the maintenance of the war graves and the headstones themselves and does not extend to the condition of the graveyard or cemetery as a whole.

I take that to include control of overgrowth within the grave area (say 7 ft x 3 ft)?

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Many cemeteries in the UK are no longer fully maintained, and left to act as 'wildlife areas,' particularly in city centres where green space is at a minimum. I feel that when people died and were buried in these cemeteries they must have imagined that their last resting places would be visible and well-kept ad infinitum. So I'm not sure why there is the expectation that CWGC graves should be maintained, when society seems to accept that the rest of the population are OK lying in the middle of brambles, ferns and undergrowth. If there's a fuss to be made, then perhaps it should be made on behalf of all the dead in these cemeteries, who are possibly all as worthy as each other of the same care and respect.

Sue

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I`m not aware that any fuss is being made, simply trying to establish the ground rules. There is a difference however - a normal family grave is the responsibility of the descendants of the occupants if they care to take it on. The nation presumably has responsibility for the graves of men and women dying in its service?

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Even if there was a wish to maintain a family grave, most people today are unaware of where their distant relatives are buried, and burial places are difficult to find, even if the place of death has been established. In cemeteries that are now 'wild' it is not possible to find individual graves even if the spirit is willing, and although it may be possible to clean a headstone, cutting down six-foot high brambles is not an option. When a burial plot was purchased in a churchyard decades ago, it was the church who took on the responsibility of at least cutting grass - even this is not done in many places now. I'm making the assumption that where CWGC graves are overgrown, then that is a problem common to the rest of the burial ground, and am suggesting that it might be worthwhile making efforts to get the entire space tidy - maybe not the nation's responsibility, but just a public spirited one.

Sue

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I'm surprised that the CWGC has any responsibility for the maintenance of graves not in the cemeteries it operates. Perhaps this goes back to GWGC's original charter at the time of its founding. If I were a government minister looking for ways to cut costs I'd take a look at the monies spent for this purpose.

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Pete

not a British government decision - each country that is a member of the CWGC (UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, Canada, South Africa) pays in according to their proportion of the casualties - this is determined by the Royal Charter - the CWGC is intergovermental organisation so its expeniture is not at the mercy of indivdual governments

Chris

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Chris,

Indeed, although our government obviously pays the bill for our contributions. This is not suggesting that they are shortchanging the CWGC, but look at their funding for our current forces in action!

Chris

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The responsibility of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is the maintenance of the war graves and the headstones themselves and does not extend to the condition of the graveyard or cemetery as a whole.

QUOTE (Phil_B @ Aug 26 2009, 04:02 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I take that to include control of overgrowth within the grave area (say 7 ft x 3 ft)?

That would be very impractical, if not impossible, Phil. I don't know the figures (Terry D will probably be able to advise), but there must be a vast number of churchyards and cemeteries in the UK, many containing only one or two war graves.

I think the CWGC's main concern is that the inscriptions are legible and the stone in reasonably good order.

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This is the CWGC criteria.

Legibility of Inscriptions in Stone

Keeping Names Alive

First among the Commission’s responsibilities is the commemoration by name of all Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars either on a headstone marking the grave or, if the grave is not known, on a memorial to the missing.

A significant part of our day-to-day work is centred on making sure the inscriptions on headstones and memorial panels remain legible but the question of what constitutes illegibility is not always understood.

The inscriptions in our cemeteries and memorials were intended to be a “monumental inscription … designed to be a record for those who care to search for it rather than an announcement to the world” as stated by a panel of experts advising on monumental art; including Commission architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. They are, therefore, not intended for instant reading or, as a result, for instant or easy photography.

In terms of Commission headstones and memorials, the definition of legibility is set by the following criteria: military and personal inscriptions should be legible from a distance of two paces from the headstone, and the badge should be recognisable from a distance of two paces and legible from one pace. Monumental inscriptions should be capable of being read in reasonable light conditions, with normal vision, and at a reasonable viewing distance by persons who care to pause and reflect.

The legibility of a headstone can vary according to the type of stone, the angle and depth of the incisions, the light conditions, the cleanliness and the moisture content of the stone at the time of examination.

True illegibility, where inscriptions do not meet the criteria and therefore require re-engraving, can be a result of several different causes. This includes the erosion of the surface, the position of the headstone in terms of the amount of direct light or shade, pollution, and the original lettering layout being badly designed or the letters poorly engraved.

What is the CWGC doing about illegible inscriptions?

Every headstone in the Commission’s care is inspected and judged against the criteria explained above.

In most cases, where the stone is basically sound, it is economically and environmentally good practice to re-engrave without removing the headstone. This can save a significant cost in replacement, demonstrate that the use of non sustainable products has been considered and should enable the headstone to last long into the future.

In remote or isolated locations, or where the subject is an individual stone, there are other criteria that will compare the efficiency and productivity of re-engraving against that of replacement, before the engraving process is carried out.

It is our intention to clean, re-engrave and touch-up every First World War headstone in our care – no easy task when one considers there are more than 800,000 individual First World War headstones worldwide.

The work is only possible because of the full support and funding we have received from our member governments – funding that has allowed the Commission to engage the necessary resources to prolong the life of many headstones and replace those that have ceased to fulfil their function.

The project is expected to take at least 28 years with an estimated cost of £15 million

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The situation is often not uniform even within the same cemetery. Wandsworth (Earlsfield) cemetery, near me, has over 600 war graves. During WW1 it was used by the nearby 3rd London General Hospital. Graves in the military plots (British, Australian and Newfoundland plots, and smaller Canadian, NZ and South African borders) are grassed, maintained and tended to the same meticulous standards as CWGC cemeteries (probably, I suspect, by peripatetic CWGC gardeners). CWGC headstones distributed elsewhere throughout the cemetery (some of which are sole markers and some are uncomfortable-looking additions to badly-deteriorated, kerbed private graves) are in almost all cases clear of major over-growth, well-maintained physically and maintained horticulturally to the same standard as surrounding graves. When I first visited the cemetery several years ago, equipped with a cemetery plan and seeking photos of war graves requested by other Pals that are private family graves, there were several that I could not find and had to conclude that they were in a tangled thicket of brambles covering one area at the top end of the cemetery. I haven't been back since last summer, and I know that remedial work has been in progress, so I hope that by now they are once again accessible.

There was one outstanding exception to the general rule of CWGC headstones being free of major obstructions, which I brought to the attention of the cemetery authority, and I'm sure it has now been attended to. The gentleman who answered my e-mail ventured the entirely plausible theory that a fast-growing shrub seedling had accidentally found its way into a tray of the low-growing plants traditionally planted at the foot of CWGC headstones.

post-11021-1251317406.jpg

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I think Peter Bennett's post sum's up most of the debate

Therefore I must stress if you have WWI or WW2 CWGC Grave's in your local cemetery.

Go take a look at names regiments dates you may get the passion to adopt one or two or just take the dog for a walk if you see any empty beer can's litter etc pick it up and put it in the nearist bin.

If the CWGC are doing their bit let,s not grumble but get on with our's

Other ways to help is to inform the local council if the foilage is too dense sometime's just a chat with cemetery workers is enough.

Geoff

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Thanks for the explanation, Peter, which all seems quite reasonable. Can you enlarge slightly on what "maintenance of the war graves" means in practice in this part sentence?

"The responsibility of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is the maintenance of the war graves and the headstones"

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Aug 26 2009, 11:49 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
If, as JH says, the contract is only to clean the gravestone, it`s easy to imagine that many or most councils would do no more. Can anyone confirm that the contracts are generally only for stone cleaning and not for grave tidying?

Phil

This may just be the particular cemetery. I've no other experience of visiting other exclusively Jewish burial grounds, but the graves were very close together - headstones almost touching. There's no room for grass and,presumably, weeds woudl be dealt with by spraying.

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