Commonwealth War Graves in St Margaret’s at Cliffe churchyard.
This collection contains information about the seven Commonwealth War Graves in the village churchyard put together by Alan Poole. The intention is to add details of one grave a month until November 2017, when Remembrance Day falls. The project was originally promoted by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) under the name ‘The Living History Project’. It was designed to commemorate the 300,000 commonwealth war graves located here in the UK. This actually ran for 141 days in 2016 to mark the 141 days of the Battle of the Somme. (1st July - 18th November 1916) The PCC recently made a request in the parish magazine for a volunteer to record and look into the history of the war graves in our churchyard, the idea being to produce a written record of our war graves here in the village and to help to understand who they were and why they are buried in St Margaret’s at Cliffe. We have seven war graves in our churchyard, four from the First World War and three from the Second World War. These are: Lieutenant John Monckton Case Second Lieutenant Geoffery Brian Hobbs Sergeant Frank Gordon Private Arthur George Frederick Luff Able Seaman Henry R Matcham Private John Edward Kenway Gunner Norman Leslie Pettitt All these men either died within the parish of St Margaret’s or had family ties with the village. Recently, the CWGC have put up the traditional green signs at the entrance to churches in the UK where Commonwealth war graves are sited. This follows the practice in other countries that indicate where Commonwealth War Graves are sited.
The History of the Commonwealth War Graves The Imperial War Graves Commission was established in 1917 by Sir Fabian Ware, the name changed to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the 1960’s to reflect changing times. War graves are a standard size and are the same for all, there is no distinction between officers and other ranks. The style of the stones are regular 3 inch thick Portland stone slabs which have a distinctive gentle camber to the top edge, they are 33 inches tall and are 15 inches wide. There are some variations due to conditions in certain countries. The standard carvings start with the bearer’s regimental badge or in the case of the Royal Navy, a furled anchor or Royal Marines Badge. Royal Air Force graves have the badge of the Royal Air Force carved on them. The Canadian war graves have the Maple leaf as their carving and Australian graves have The Rising Sun of the Australian Army. The next line usually contains the number and rank of the casualty with the full name on the next line; this is normally in slightly larger lettering. If the casualty had any decorations this would be added below or after the name. The name of the regiment or the ships name is on the next line; below this is usually the date of death followed by the age of the casualty. Between the lettering and the foot of the stone which might have a personal inscription added at the request of the next of kin, is carved an emblem of his/her religious faith, usually a cross, or the Star of David or none. However if the casualty held the V.C., this badge is carved in this space. The inscription at the foot of the stone was not compulsory but offered a maximum of 66 letters including spaces to be added at a cost of 3 1/2d. per letter. There were rules associated with this inscription and it would appear that there was a number of set texts which the relative might choose, this is reflected in the amount of similar texts that appear on many war graves. Owing to the high number of casualties, it was agreed that land would be given to create cemeteries near to the battlefield, and after this had been set up, no repatriations were allowed and soldiers of all ranks were buried together in the countries that they died in. The practice of charging the Next of Kin for a personal inscription on the foot of the headstone was not popular, some could not afford it. The IWGC sometimes respectfully asked for the payment but did not pursue it if it was not paid. By the late 1920’s the charge was dropped. The inscriptions on headstones were designed to be read from a distance of 2 metres and headstones usually all face east although some religions were accommodated by the stone being positioned to face Mecca.
There was a cut-off date after the wars when a war grave could still be used; this was August 31st 1921 for the First World War and December 31st 1947 for the Second World War. This was to allow those who died of wounds attributable to war service to have a war grave and to be commemorated. There were certain circumstances where a war grave was used if the casualty was still in service between the end of the war and these dates. A local example is that of Private Arthur LUFF who was only 17 when he died in June 1921, and therefore was only 14 or maybe 15 years old when World War One ended.
In this year’s ( 2017) editions of the Parish Magazine it is intended to include a history and explanation of each of our seven war grave casualties, one each month in chronological order of death starting with Geoffery Brian Hobbs, Royal Flying Corps. This should conveniently take us to November 2017, the month of Remembrance Sunday. As the Living Memory Project has officially finished, (November 18th 2016) this will be known as the St Margaret’s Commonwealth War Graves Project
The information provided here will be available not only here on the St Margaret’s History Society website, and the Parish Church Website, www.stmargaretsbenefice.org.uk, but there will also be a hard copy in the church It is also intended to produce a location map for the graves. I acknowledge the help given by the CWGC website, local history sites, Mrs Ruth Nicol, Mrs Joan Jones, Mrs Camilla Harley, The Dover Express, The Dover War Memorial Project and of course many other sites on the Internet.
Alan Poole March 2017
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