This presentation is part of the International Cemetery Preservation Summit, October 8-10, 2014 Niagara Falls, NY.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the Americas by Captain Harry Harsch
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, established by Royal Charter on 21 May 1917, commemorates the 1.7 million people of the British Commonwealth who died in the two world wars. The Commission cares for cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in 153 countries. The cost is shared by the partner governments of Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom. The values and aims laid out in 1917 are as relevant now as they were almost 100 years ago:
• A policy of non-repatriation of human remains in order to respect the theme of common sacrifice and equal honour in death.
• 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 grave was unidentified.
• The headstones and memorials should be permanent.
• The headstones should be uniform.
• There should be no distinction made on account of military or civil rank, race or creed.
The Canadian Agency of the Commission is responsible for fulfilling the Charter tasks in the Americas, including the Caribbean, which includes the commemoration of 20,400 War Dead in 3,350 cemeteries and on ten memorials. The majority of the Commonwealth graves are in Canada, however approximately 1000 graves are located in the United States. The Commission conducts cyclical tours so that each grave is visited at least once every six years. Sites that contain horticulture are inspected annually where practicable. Commission staff also arrange contracts to ensure structural and horticultural work is carried out to the prescribed high standards. This is a significant challenge considering that, unlike the much better-known Commonwealth War Graves in Europe where there are a large concentration of graves in a comparatively small geographical area, the Canadian Agency is responsible for relatively few graves spread over an enormous area.
Harry Harsch joined the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Canadian Agency as an Inspecting Officer on 1 August 2013 after a 37-year career as a seagoing warfare officer the Royal Canadian Navy. Captain Harsch enjoyed a varied naval career both at sea and ashore, including command of the minesweeper HMCS COWICHAN, the frigate HMCS FREDERICTON and the destroyer HMCS ATHABASKAN. Just prior to retirement he spent five years in the UK: first as the Senior Canadian Officer at NATO’s naval headquarters in Northwood, and then as the Naval Adviser (attaché) at the Canadian High Commission (embassy) in London, where he was cross-accredited as the Canadian Defence Attaché to Denmark. He resides in Ottawa.