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CWGC Involvement

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The Commission: The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was established by a Royal Charter in 1917. It's duties are to mark and maintain the graves of the members of the forces of the Commonwealth who died during the two world wars, to build and maintain memorials to the dead whose graves are unknown, and to keep records and registers.

The Commission thus cares for 1.7 million Commonwealth war dead in 150 countries including 110,000 Canadians in 75 countries.

The Commission was founded upon principles which have remained unaltered:

  • that each of the dead should be commemorated individually by name either on a headstone over the grave or by an inscription on a memorial if the burial was unknown;
  • that the headstones and memorials should be permanent;
  • that the headstones should be uniform; and,
  • that there should be no distinction made on account of military rank, race or creed.

In accordance with these principles, and to ensure equality of treatment, the participating governments agreed that there would be no repatriation of remains.

In 1998 the Minister of Veterans Affairs, The Hon. Fred Mifflin, corresponded with the Commission requesting that it consider Canada's request to repatriate the remains of an unknown soldier in order "to establish as a particular mode of commemoration, a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier". The Commission sought and received certain assurances including:

  • Canada's continued support for the policy of non-repatriation and uniformity of treatment for the war dead of the First and Second World Wars;
  • Canada would not attempt, nor assist anyone in attempting to identify the remains;
  • The Commission retained full autonomy in the matter of locating and exhuming the remains and that this would be done in private with a minimum of publicity; and,
  • The remains, once repatriated, would remain a war grave and that the Commission would be fully consulted in all matters affecting the grave's care and maintenance.

Included in the request was Canada's wish that the remains be selected from the area of Vimy as an appropriate symbol of Canada's war time achievements.

The request was considered and approved by the Commission in its 615th Meeting held on the 16th of December 1998.

Throughout the project, officers of the Canadian Agency, Commonwealth War Graves Commission have participated in various coordination meetings and deliberations. The Commission's Director, France Area, will select and make the arrangements for exhumation, and Commission employees and dignitaries will participate in the ceremonies at Vimy and Ottawa as the remains are entrusted to Canada.

Assurance of Anonymity

The Commission records the names of 27,607 Canadians for whom the fortunes of war denied a known grave and whose names are thus commemorated on a Memorial. There are some 7,000 graves marked as "an unknown Canadian" in various locations throughout the world. The mandate of the Commission is to mark and maintain the graves entrusted to it by the participating governments and it is not an organization, which is charged with the identification of the approximately 200,000 Commonwealth burials, marked as unknown, which exist.

The records of the Commission do contain information which would permit one to speculate on the identity of some of these burials but the policy of non-disturbance of war graves, governed by the Geneva Convention to which all participating governments are signatories, means that any identification theories remain exactly that.

In this particular case, the Commission is taking care to choose a grave where such information does not exist, and received Canada's assurance that it would not seek to identify nor assist anyone attempting to identify the unknown soldier.

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