Finding family war graves 

It took just 10 minutes online, using the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's website

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESTY OF CWGC - remembering The communal cemetery at the village of Lillers in northern France, where journalist Cathryn Atkinson's great-grandfather is buried. He was killed during the First World War.
  • Photo courtesty of CWGC
  • remembering The communal cemetery at the village of Lillers in northern France, where journalist Cathryn Atkinson's great-grandfather is buried. He was killed during the First World War.

George Jeffries was a 32-year-old "serjeant" in the 1st Bn. Gloucestershire Regiment. He left his wife Emily in Hotwells, Bristol, in the west of England to fight in France during the Great War. He didn't make it to the end of the first year, dying on Dec. 28, 1914.

He is buried in the Lillers Communal Cemetery in Pas de Calais, about 15 kilometres west of the small market town of Bethune.

The village of Lillers was used for billets and headquarter offices from the autumn of 1914 to April 1918. At that time it was a hospital centre with the 6th, 9th, 18th, 32nd, 49th and 58th Casualty Clearing Stations in the town. These units buried their dead in the communal cemetery. In April 1918, the Germans advanced to a nearby town and Lillers came under shell-fire, and the units holding this front continued to bury their dead there.

There are 965 Commonwealth soldiers buried at Lillers, 73 of whom are unidentified. There are also 15 German graves.George Jeffries was my great-grandfather. Another George, his son and my grandfather, died when I was seven, and so while I'd grown up knowing that I had a great-grandfather who had died in the First World War, I knew almost nothing about him, other than his name, and nothing at all about where his remains lay.

I do know that his loss, during my grandfather's childhood, impacted his family deeply. It is the sort of loss that echoes down the generations, and has happened to millions of families.

And, no, I haven't been there yet, but I one day hope to rectify that.

I found the above information in about 10 minutes by searching the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website at www.cwgc.org. On that site is information on 1.7 million soldiers who died in both the First and Second World Wars, whose remains are in cemeteries from Iraq to Singapore to Europe.

Dominique Boulais, the deputy secretary-general of the CWGC, said the website had been upgraded in the past year due to public feedback, making such searches even easier. He added that the website has become the pre-eminent tool for researching details on those Commonwealth servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives in the two world wars and other conflicts.

"According to our Head Office in the UK, the Commission's website had 245,000 unique visits and almost three million page views in October 2012. In the first five days of this month those figures are 42,000 visits and almost 500,000 page views," Boulais said."Our charter has always tasked us with keeping records and registers of the war dead but by making their details available on the web we are not only making those details more accessible than ever before but are engaging new generations in the act of remembrance — thereby helping to keep the names of the fallen alive like never before."

Here is another option for Canadians. The federal government department, Veterans Affairs Canada, has their own website for such research, called The Canadian Virtual War Museum.

This site contains a registry of information about the graves and memorials of more than 118,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who died in war. Included on this site are the memorials of more than 1,700 soldiers who died in service to Canada since the Korean War, including peacekeeping and other operations.  

The virtual war museum can be found at www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/collections/virualmem.

For those wanting to search of American servicemen and servicewomen who have died in the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, Vietnam and even the U.S. Civil War, a good place to start is the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) website at abmc.gov.

At the ABMC website, there is information on both those buried on land or at sea along with those missing in action.

War memorials and cemeteries both in the U.S. and overseas are listed.

The American Battle Monuments Commission, established by the U.S. Congress in 1923, is an agency of the executive branch of the federal government. Among its other responsibilities, the organization oversees the designing, constructing, operating and maintaining of permanent American cemeteries in foreign countries, as well as controlling the design and construction of permanent military markers within the U.S.

The website also directs people who would like information on services and ceremonies at individual memorial and gravesites, along with escorts for families wanting to visit these sites. Other information and support services are also available.

For Australians, the Australian War Graves Photographic Archives, has a similar search database.

This project began in 2000, and is committed to "procuring a digital photograph of every Australian War Grave and Memorial Commemoration; worldwide."

The commitment stems from "a labour of respect dedicated to the supreme sacrifice made by our Australian military personnel. It is through this that we are committed to seeing this non-profit project to its completion."

More than 102,000 Australian military personnel are commemorated in 83 countries throughout the world.

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