Wittering Service Graves

With this year marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings and the start of a four year period of remembrance on the centenary of the First World War, Sgt Neil Taylor highlights the link Wittering shares with the war cemeteries and memorials found throughout Europe and the rest of the World.

A number of graves honouring the men and women of the Armed Forces who died in the service of their country, are located in the grounds of All Saints Church in the centre of Wittering village.

Visitors to the church grounds pass through the lych-gate in memoriam to Gp Capt John Woodroffe, a former Stn Cdr at RAF Wittering. Once through you encounter a stone memorial tablet placed in honour of the fallen  personnel in the two world wars. Walking past the 1,000-yearold church and on into the cemetery you quickly see the distinctive service headstones. In actual fact, there are four classification of graves located in the grounds.

The first is the World War Graves, maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). The CWGC was founded by Sir Fabian Ware, a commander of a Red Cross unit on the front line during the First  World War. Saddened by the sheer number of casualties, he was driven to find a way to remember the fallen. Subsequently, his Unit started recording and caring for the graves that they found and by 1915 they gained official recognition by the War Office and were incorporated into the British Army as the Graves Registration Committee. In 1917 the Imperial War Graves Commission was established and following the Armistice the work of commemorating the dead began in earnest.

Armed Forces personnel who lost their lives in service or of causes attributable to service, between August 4, 1914 to August 31, 1921 and September 3, 1939 to December 31, 1947 are buried in the official ‘war graves’ maintained by the CWGC. Funded by six Commonwealth Governments; Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and UK, the costs are shared based on the proportion of personnel lost to each country. All Saints Church is one of 23,000 locations in 153 countries looked after by the Commission. In total, 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women are commemorated by graves and memorials.

There are 33 CWGC graves located at Wittering, laid out immaculately in rows marked with headstones made of Portland stone. Commemorating personnel from four countries; Canada, New Zealand, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the UK, the graves at Wittering all date from the Second World War with personnel from all elements of the Armed Forces represented.

The second classification of graves at Wittering, are those of individuals who lost their lives in service during the inter-war years. From September 1, 1921 to September 2, 1939, dependent on the Service, some casualties were provided with an official headstone and in some instances they received a service funeral. Subsequently, graves that were officially recognised were afforded service protocols of care and maintenance while private graves were the responsibility of the families of the deceased. At Wittering there are a number of these inter-war years graves interspersed with the ‘war graves’ and in all cases the graves are cared for equally by the  primary contractor at Wittering.

The third classification of graves at Wittering is the Non-World War Graves. Non-World War Graves commemorate service personnel who have lost their lives in service after January 1, 1948 and are the responsibility of the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC). When an individual dies in service the family is offered a service funeral and an official headstone which is then maintained in perpetuity. Following this the service persons details are sent on to the Trustees of the Armed Forces Memorial at Alrewas, Staffordshire. The decision is then made by the Trustees to add the name to the memorial. Within All Saints Church there are 44 Non-War Graves, again laid out immaculately; very similar in design, the military pattern headstones fit in cohesively with the CWGC headstones.

The fourth classification of graves is where the next of kin choose to have a private funeral or did not qualify for a service funeral. These graves are then maintained privately.

As one of the two RAF Servicemen responsible for the graves at Wittering it is our privilege to act as the point of contact for the CWGC, JCCC and the wider community. Additionally, we carry out routine inspections, rubbish removal and field routine enquiries as required.

With the kind permission of the Church Warden David Standish-Leigh and All Saints Church we host small group visits to the graves and if available a tour of the church and the RAF commemorative chapel there. Visits are, where possible, aimed to suit a wide range of people including relatives, groups and societies.

Finally, we are in the early stages of researching the stories behind the individuals resting in the cemetery. If readers have any stories relating to any of the personnel commemorated we would be grateful for any snippet of information. Information regarding the graves or to arrange visits should be directed to Sgt Taylor or Sgt Anthony Hibberd via the Wittering View Editor.