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Empires of the Dead: How One Man's Vision Led to the Creation of WWI's War Graves Paperback – 27 Mar 2014

4.5 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Collins; Reprint edition (27 Mar. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007456689
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007456680
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.5 x 19.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 260,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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. Mercifully, it is also one of the shortest. 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 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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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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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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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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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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I was excited when I saw this - Fabian Ware and the IWGC make a fascinating subject and a biog of Ware was long overdue. This, though, reads as if it couldn't decide whether it was Ware's story or a history of the IWGC (which has already been done, and better)- either way it's unsatisfactory and incomplete. How could a book purporting to be about FW dismiss his non-IWGC life in just one sentence? Or fail to mention the date of his death? Anyone reading it would think his work stopped with WW1 - but it continued throughout WW2. Crane seems not to like Ware very much, which diminishes the book's impact - as does his rather florid prose (chiliastic, anyone?). Yes, there are moving passages - about the memorials especially. How could there not be? But despite the good parts, and the heroic nature of the achievement described, this was a disappointment.
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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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Engaging account of the little-known story of Fabian Ware, who almost single handedly got the work of commemorating the World War I dead on the Western Front started and sustained through difficult early years. Takes a rather biaised view of the conduct of the war but this does not detract from the main story.
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I bought this as a Xmas present for my wife, she has been restoring photographic project work from 1980s when she spent summer months for three years in the Somme and Ypres battle field areas, photographing in some of the more unusual formats available then. She is a professional photographer, Fellow of the RPS, and one of the earliest female surrealist photographers.
This book has filled many gaps in her knowledge, and enabled her to really understand how/why the graves are laid out as they are.

If you need knowledge of this area, then read this book. (Loads brownie points as well).
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