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Empires of the Dead: How One Man's Vision Led to the Creation of WW1's War Graves [Hardcover]

David Crane
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
Price: £16.77 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

26 Sep 2013

Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction; the extraordinary and forgotten story behind the building of the First World War cemeteries, due to the efforts of one remarkable and visionary man, Fabian Ware.

Before WWI, little provision was made for the burial of the war dead. Soldiers were often unceremoniously dumped in a mass grave; officers shipped home for burial.

The great cemeteries of WWI came about as a result of the efforts of one inspired visionary. In 1914, Fabian Ware joined the Red Cross, working on the frontline in France. Horrified by the hasty burials, he recorded the identity and position of the graves. His work was officially recognised, with a Graves Registration Commission being set up. As reports of their work became public, the Commission was flooded with letters from grieving relatives around the world.

Critically acclaimed author David Crane gives a profoundly moving account of the creation of the great citadels to the dead, which involved leading figures of the day, including Rudyard Kipling. It is the story of cynical politicking, as governments sought to justify the sacrifice, as well as the grief of nations, following the ‘war to end all wars’.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Collins (26 Sep 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007456654
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007456659
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 82,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Crane's first book, 'Lord Byron's Jackal' was published to great acclaim in 1998, and his second, 'The Kindness of Sisters' published in 2002, is a groundbreaking work of romantic biography. In 2005 the highly acclaimed 'Scott of the Antarctic' was published, followed by 'Men of War', a collection of 19th Century naval biographies, in 2009.
Crane lives in north-west Scotland.

Product Description

Review

‘Of the avalanche of books to commemorate the centennial of the opening of the Great War, ‘Empires of the Dead’ is the most original, best written and most challenging so far. It strikes at the heart of the current debate about what we are commemorating, celebrating or deploring in the flood of ceremony, debate and literary rows about the meaning of the First World War today. Crane succeeds in doing so by looking at the achievement of Fabian Ware, who to this day is almost an unknown in the pantheon of heroes or villains associated with the conflict’ Evening Standard

‘Outstanding … Crane shows how extraordinary a physical, logistical and administrative feat it was to bury or commemorate more than half a million dead in individual graves. And he reveals that this Herculean task was accomplished largely due to the efforts of one man: Fabian Ware’ Independent on Sunday

‘Vivid and compelling … David Crane writes exuberant, joyful prose. He is acutely aware of the ambiguities and nuances surrounding the issues of war and death; and that makes this a fine and troubling book, as well as a riveting read’ Literary Review

‘A superb study. The story of the foundation and achievements of the War Graves Commission has been told before, but never so well or so perceptively. Crane brings out the complexities of Ware’s character … his brilliance as a diplomat … and the paradoxes in his achievement’ Spectator

‘The most original, shortest and best written of the year’s tsunami of books on the impact of the Great War’ Evening Standard, Books of the Year

‘Excellent’ Sunday Times

‘Intensely moving’ Boyd Tonkin, Independent

‘A beautifully written, enormously touching account of Ware’s attempt to create what Kipling called, ‘a work greater than the Pharoahs’’ Daily Mail

‘In retrieving [Ware] from history, Crane has performed an important work of remembrance’ New Statesman

‘A beautifully researched and written book, an intellectually honest work of history’ Guardian

About the Author

David Crane's first book, ‘Lord Byron’s Jackal’ was published to great acclaim in 1998, and his second, ‘The Kindness of Sisters’ published in 2002, is a groundbreaking work of romantic biography. In 2005 the highly acclaimed 'Scott of the Antarctic' was published, followed by ‘Men of War’, a collection of 19th Century naval biographies, in 2009. Crane lives in north-west Scotland.


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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tale most moving not known to most 30 Nov 2013
By jmkj
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have been visiting the CWGC cemeteries for the past dozen years seeking, recording and photographing the 93 graves and memorials of the Fallen of our local Suffolk Benefice and also as a volunteer for the War Graves Photographic Project. In spite of this experience my understanding of the enormous task that the Commission had to deal with after both the wars has been greatly added to by this absorbing book. It should be widely read as we approach the commemoration of thestart of Great War - as it was termed in my youth.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The definitive account 31 Dec 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is the definitive account of how the war cemeteries of the First World War came into being and of how they have reflected and affected attitudes ever since. No history of that war is complete without it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By C. Ball TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
The British First World War cemeteries in France and Belgium seem so inevitable now from the distance of a hundred years, so natural, row after row of identical white headstones, serried ranks all facing East (towards the enemy, as they died), all equal in death, no grand monuments to the elevated in rank or title. There is something tremendously beautiful about those cemeteries, a poignancy and a peace that seems very much at odds with how they died. Most cemeteries evoke nothing more than an English country garden, with green lawns, shading trees and herbaceous borders. There is one in Ypres, the Ramparts Cemetery, which could literally be a country garden, with a sloping lawn down to a pond, willow trees, flowers. Somehow the headstones seem to fit.

This was all deliberate, of course, and all the work of the (then) Imperial War Graves Commission and its chief Fabian Ware. Ware started out in France as the head of a Red Cross Ambulance Unit, and as much as recovering live soldiers his work inevitably involved locating and marking the graves of those they could not save. As it would be wont to on the Western Front, the work escalated, and eventually it became a full-time role.

The First World War cemeteries are so much a part of our cultural memory of the war, so much a part of its iconography, that it is easy to forget just how much resistance there was to the concept at all. Many bereaved relatives were dismayed and horrified to learn that they could not bring their loved ones' bodies home, that they could not pay for grand monuments or tombs, that just as they had to sacrifice their sons and brothers and husbands and fathers to the nation in life, they must now do so also in death.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Empires of the Dead 15 Dec 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Explains the History of the CWGC in detail. Also written and compiled in easy to read format. A great deat of detail but well put together so that it will now be near me whenever I research any reports that , as a Volunteer Field Worker for the Imperial War Museum. I come across. Thank you to the author David Crane
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Unknown Visionary 23 Dec 2013
By Stephen
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A fascinating story of a determined man. But amongst other powerful characters like Milner, Kipling, Lutyens etc Ware himself remains something of a cypher. There is much on his achievement, but little revelation of the man, and the inner springs of his determination. Much of the correspondence is official, and one feels that his abiding passion might have spilled over into his personal life and more might have been shown here.
This is a well-written history of the (I)CWGC, and I am aware that it is not biography of Fabian Ware. But I am left with something of the same feeling as when confronted with the great monuments he created: impressive,commanding, painstakingly democratic but somewhat austere and impersonal, without intimacy. For all that, it is a book I will gladly reread and I may in so doing prove myself wrong.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating story that deserved to be told 29 Sep 2014
Format:Paperback
No tour of the battlefields of the two World Wars can omit a visit to at least one Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemetery. Indeed, with the land being returned to its original uses and being developed, these battlefields are increasingly identified through these cemeteries. The rows of uniform white headstones are at once beautiful yet tragic and represent a tangible legacy of war. The story of how they came into existence is told in Empires of the Dead: How one man’s vision led to the creation of WWI’s war graves.
Before World War I (WWI), little provision was made for the burial of the war dead. Soldiers were often unceremoniously dumped in a mass grave; officers shipped home to be buried in local cemeteries. The great cemeteries of WWI came about as a result of the efforts of one inspired visionary. In 1914, Fabian Ware, at 45, was too old to enlist. Instead, he joined the Red Cross, working on the front line in France. There he was horrified by the ignominious end to the lives of many of the soldiers who, buried hastily, were often lost as the battle lines moved backward and forward over the same ground. He recorded their identity and the position of their graves, and his work was quickly officially recognised, with a Graves Registration Commission being set up. As reports of their work became public, the Commission was flooded with letters from grieving relatives around the world.
The subsequent story of how and why this graves registration work led to the creation of thousands of cemeteries around the world and the CWGC is one of imperialism, faith, grief, guilt, ego, vision, bureaucracy, politics and resources. The story is meticulously researched and well told in Empires of the Dead.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Looks promising.
Bought as a gift and haven't heard anything bad so I'm happy. I'll edit this when he lends it to me.
Published 2 days ago by Baz Heath
5.0 out of 5 stars We tend to take the WW1 graves for granted but ...
We tend to take the WW1 graves for granted but this book gives an insight into how one man steered the way through politics and family heartbreak to find a solution to a huge... Read more
Published 4 days ago by B A Stewart
5.0 out of 5 stars The book is wonderful and really interesting with fascinating facts
Ordered for a friends 60th birthday. The book is wonderful and really interesting with fascinating facts. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Genevive
5.0 out of 5 stars Review
Item was well packaged and arrived in good time. Item was brought as a present and the person I brought it for enjoyed it. Thank you.
Published 1 month ago by June I. Featherstone
4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual and under researched area of WW1 brought up to date
I thought this was an interesting and thoroughly researched book, rightly bringing to our attention the wonderful work of one man. Excellent
Published 1 month ago by D. Cameron
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine book. But!
David Crane describes his book 'Empires of the Dead' as a biography. It is hardly that. For whilst its focus is the work of Fabian Ware, the man whose genius spawned the... Read more
Published 2 months ago by John Brain
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely fascinating
I have been to a number of Great War Cemeteries and stood under the Menin Gate on Armistice Day to remember my grandfather who died near Ypres in 1917 but never appreciated before... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Bob Richards
5.0 out of 5 stars More than I expected
I had seen this book on the shelves on a few occasions but only flipped through the pages. It looked like an unassuming book, and probably that is why I did not buy it. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Derek
4.0 out of 5 stars A scholalry work
A book about a person, the people he dealt with in his role in the IWGC, and the politics behind it all. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Mrs Lisa Singleton
3.0 out of 5 stars Not gripping
I expected that the story behind the setting up of the Imperial War Graves Commission would be compelling but I'm finding this is a book that I only read for a few pages at a time... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
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