Story of the man who never forgot

'Empires Of The Dead' by David Cane
'Empires Of The Dead' by David Cane

This is the truly remarkable story of the man behind the planning and establishment of the war cemeteries right across Europe, containing the graves of the thousands upon thousands of British and Commonwealth soldiers who fell in the horror of World War One.

What is, perhaps, most astonishing though is that this man, Fabian Ware, a staunch patriot, a visionary and also a man who struggled against what seemed like insurmountable odds, is all but forgotten today.

He was the one who saw to it that those who gave their lives were given decent burials, identified where possible, and laid to rest in a manner which ensured they would never be forgotten.

It seemed like, and indeed was, a superhuman task, often involving personal danger for Ware and those who worked for him as they scoured the mud, the slime and the blood of the front-line trenches while the guns were still blazing.

On top of all that, Ware had to contend with warring architects, stubborn bureaucrats, dithering clergymen and, most touching of all, the heartfelt cries of the bereaved and anguished next of kin.

As the author points out, “for those who shared or responded to his idealism, energy and sheer personal magnetism [Ware] was an irresistible force”.

David Crane has done his subject proud in a clearly and beautifully written narrative which, frankly, makes one gasp at the enormity of the task faced, and ultimately accomplished, by Ware. His passage on the events leading up to and including the placing of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey is particularly moving.

Let us hope that this work will entitle Ware to the honour which he so richly deserves and which, so far, has eluded him.

‘Empires Of The Dead: How One Man’s Vision Led to the Creation Of WWI’s War Graves’, by David Cane, is published in hardback by William Collins, priced £16.99 (ebook £8.49). Available now.