Within the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) headquarters exists an archive of international importance. Thousands of documents detail how the Commission was created.
CWGC has a rich historical narrative spanning over a century. The archive contains over 320,000 items including original documents, correspondence, architectural plans and photographs, which shape the narrative and bring the individuals, events and discussions that have taken place to life.
The archives are much more than documents, letters, and photographs. They tell us stories and bring alive the unthinkable task the Commission embarked on more than 100 years ago and memories of the two World Wars.
Our collection is full of hidden gems, discover some of our favourites and learn some interesting facts about our archive.
Peter Pan and pealing bells
What connects the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to Peter Pan and pealing bells? Among the thousands of letters and memos we hold are several records from famous playwright, James Matthew Barrie, best known for writing the play Peter Pan.
Our archive contains an original letter, written by JM Barrie to Sir Edwin Lutyens. Lutyens was a distinguished British architect, commissioned by the War Graves Commission to design many of the early cemeteries and memorials of the First World War.
Journey of the Pocket book Bible
One of the smallest items within the CWGC archive is a Gospel of St John pocket book, owned by Commonwealth War Graves Commission Gardner Edward Hamblen.
There were over 40 million Bibles, Testaments and prayer books distributed by the British and Foreign Bible Society during First World War. A personal copy of the “Active Service’ New Testament was carried in the top pockets of uniforms by many soldiers during the war, and were keepsake gifts for servicemen in the war.
Edward fought extensively on the Western Front and held the rank of Lance Corporal. He survived the war and joined the Commission in 1920, as a storeman and fitter.
This letter dated 11 May 1939, was sent by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to Sir Fabian Ware, to congratulate him on the work of the Anglo-German-French Committee, which had been established in 1936, to coordinate the work of the common remembrance of those who died during the First World War between the United Kingdom, Germany and France.
On the Radio
The Commission hosted one of the first outside broadcast features with the BBC
Our archive captures the story of remembrance, not just the history of the Commission. In July 1927, the Menin Gate played host to one the first outside broadcast features. Until 1927, a contract with the newspapers had prevented the BBC (then a limited company) from broadcasting descriptions of events in real time as they happened.
Preserving the past for the future
Over the past year, our dedicated team of archive volunteers have been involved in a project involving the repackaging and digitisation of items from our collection. The resulting digitised content is being gradually added to the CWGC online archive catalogue to facilitate wider access to archive material for the public, whilst simultaneously ensuring the original documents are better preserved.