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Victoria Wallace is Director General of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the organisation which since 1917 has cared for all the Australian fallen of the two world wars, alongside their Commonwealth colleagues. Six member Governments together fund the maintenance of over 1.7 million war graves in 153 countries, at an annual cost of around AUD 100m each year. From Gallipoli to the death railway, from the fields of Flanders to the deserts of the Middle East, the Commission’s 1400 gardeners have welcomed visiting families and pilgrims for a century.
Victoria will talk about the foundation of this extraordinary organisation, and the principles which that each service man or woman was commemorated equally, with enduring dignity. The mission continues. Almost every week, a soldier’s body is recovered from the fields of the Western Front, and after identification, reburied with
full military honours. And she will explain how the mission of the organisation has had to expand, to ensure that younger generations understand the sacrifice made by so many, and that communities living near the cemeteries are able to engage with the Commission, and learn about the people we remember, ensuring they are never forgotten.
This year, to mark that centenary, the Commission is a planning a series of legacy projects, raising the organisation’s profile, so that its work is more widely appreciated, and encouraging even more people to take time to visit war graves, wherever they are. A range of new activities are planned, from opening visitor centres at key locations on the Western Front, to touring a garden designed for the Commission’s centenary which will first be seen at the 2017 Chelsea Flower Show in May, and then be moved to each member country in turn.
To generate the income needed to do this work, which falls outside the scope of the Royal charter and the governments’ funding, a new charity is being registered, the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation, chaired by Hon Ros Kelly AO. A “Friends of the CWGC” organisation will launch in May, welcoming members from around the world, offering those interested the opportunity to support this work, and learn more about it.