What was the Imperial War Graves Commission?

Hanna Smyth, University of Oxford Hanna Smyth University of Oxford
King George V and Rudyard Kipling

The Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) was the British institution that dealt with burying and commemorating First World War dead and missing soldiers. Today it is responsible for cemeteries and memorials of both World Wars, in more than 150 countries. In 1960 its name was changed to the ‘Commonwealth War Graves Commission’ to reflect the changing state of the British empire.

Rudyard Kipling and the First World War

Rudyard Kipling, a well-known British poet, did not serve in the conflict, but his son John did. John went missing in battle and his body was not identified during Kipling’s lifetime. 

This was an unusually common fate during the First World War compared to prior conflicts. 

The loss of John made Kipling a famous example of this unfortunately prevalent First World War phenomenon: a parent mourning a son without the certainty of a body to bury. 

Choosing inscriptions

Families were allowed to choose 66-word epitaphs for headstones. However, inscriptions were also needed to represent collective and unknown identities. 

Kipling was asked to help create inscriptions that would become perennial features of IWGC sites. His involvement with the IWGC would cement his friendship with King George V, whom he accompanied on royal visits to the War Cemeteries.

The Stone of Remembrance

Kipling’s most famous contribution to IWGC inscriptions is one which he did not actually write himself, but was instrumental in selecting. 

Most IWGC cemeteries with more than 1,000 graves includes a ‘Stone of Remembrance’, a structure designed to imitate an altar or a tomb. Each one is inscribed with a phrase from The Book of Ecclesiasticus: 'Their name liveth forevermore'.

A living legacy in stone

Kipling played a key role in selecting the words that would immortalize the First World War fallen. 

As we witness the war’s centenary, IWGC sites have been afforded increasing prominence as representations and performances of both individual and collective identities. 

Kipling’s efforts have helped to ensure that memory of the fallen indeed lives ‘forevermore’. His home, Bateman's, has been in the Trust's care since 1939.

An old photograph of the Convalescents and Medical Staff taken during the First World War at Basildon

Our war memorials 

We care for around 170 war memorials, with about 70 of those from the First World War. Find out the stories behind the monuments and where you can find them.