On July 8th the Commonwealth War Graves Commission made a significant update to their website to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. For those of us researching soldiers the most welcome addition is the release of over 300,000 digitized documents. These archival documents provide details on both the soldier and their burial and/or commemoration. The documents are organized into six different categories:
- Grave Registration Documents
- Grave Registration Reports (Final)
- Grave Registration Reports (Working Copy)
- Concentration Documents
- Alternative Commemoration Documents
- Burial Returns
- Concentration Cemetery Documents
- Exhumation Reports
- Verification Forms
- Headstone Documents
- Headstone Schedule (Originals)
- Headstone Schedules (Appendices)
- Panel List Documents
- Panel Lists
- Panel List Addenda
The number and type of documents linked to any given soldier will vary but all are neatly organized in the “CWGC Archive Online” section that appears at the bottom of each casualty details page. Thumbnail documents are displayed and you can use a zoom tool to have a closer look or download the document to your computer. A detailed description of each of the documents listed above can be found on the CWGC’s Frequently Asked Questions page.
According to the CWGC almost 99% of the Verification Forms were destroyed in the Second World War however I was fortunate enough to find one for my relative George Geoffrey May who died at Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917. The verification form was sent to his father Archie May in Ottawa so that he could verify that the details were correct as well as add any additional information he deemed necessary.
Relatives sometimes chose to have a personal inscription engraved on their loved one’s headstone. If you’ve never visited or have never seen a photo of your relatives’ grave this inscription may be found on their Headstone Schedule. I’ve included a gallery of images at the bottom of this article containing examples of some of the CWGC Archival Documents related to my relatives.
The CWGC also introduced a number of enhancements to their search engine including the ability to save your search results and to export them to a spreadsheet [Edit: I now realize these are not new features]. Saving your search results requires that you set up an account but registration is free and it only takes a couple of minutes. Note: currently the saved search feature isn’t producing the desired results for me so I suspect some fine-tuning of this feature is still in progress.
Another wonderful addition is the Discover 14-18 website. Here you’ll find more details on the CWGC’s centenary plans and a wealth of other information including a Discover section that allows you to explore half a dozen Battlefronts: UK Home Front, Gallipoli, The Battle of the Somme, The Ypres Salient, War in the Air and War at Sea. Each section includes a map and a selection of cemeteries and memorials relevant to that category. This is a very helpful resource if you’re planning to visit the region, as are the Remembrance Trails, suggested touring routes following a common theme. These include helpful leaflets that can be downloaded to help you plan your route. The routes are designed for motorists but at some point I would love to see a long-distance walking guide as well. If one isn’t in the cards I might have to design one myself!