Empires of the Dead: How One Man’s Vision Led to the Creation of WWI’s War Graves
Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction.
The extraordinary and forgotten story of the building of the World War One cemeteries, due to the efforts of one remarkable 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’.
‘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