Ivor F. Perry 2018

University of Durham

The Kopje-crest and the Uniform Headstone: how the South African experience influenced the creation of a cultural phenomenon

This investigation originates from a project on the inscriptions on the headstones maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The Commonwealth War Cemeteries tend to be regarded as a cultural norm – even a British, or military tradition. Yet this phenomenon is not traditional, and is only British by virtue of the nationality of their founder and director, Sir Fabian Ware. His vision was in fact an international and Imperial one, and the ‘norms’ that the project produced were new both to the British Army and to the British civil polity. Fabian Ware’s active involvement with war graves began in 1914, and the complete architecture of policies and standards was in place by 1921. Yet the origins of these standards, and the contributions of a relatively few individuals, date back more than ten years previously, to the Second Boer War of 1899-1902, and to the subsequent reconstruction. The discussion will consider the interment of British soldiers, particularly Other Ranks, before during and after the Boer War. It will show how the ‘tradition’, if any, of burying and commemorating individual soldiers really began in South Africa. It will illustrate how some of the key players in the non-combatant operations related to the war appeared later as equally key players in the early development of the Imperial War Graves Commission. Finally, it will sum up the cornerstone policies of the Imperial War Graves Commission and identify the correlations between them and the lessons learned from South Africa.


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