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Empires of the Dead: How One Man’s Vision Led to the Creation of WWI’s War Graves

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  122 ratings  ·  21 reviews
Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction; the extraordinary and forgotten story behind the building of the First World War cemeteries, due to the efforts of one remarkable and visionary 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
Paperback, 304 pages
Published March 27th 2014 by William Collins (first published September 26th 2013)
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3.68  · 
Rating details
 ·  122 ratings  ·  21 reviews

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Dec 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 E ...more
Kay (aka) Miss Bates
MEH. Crane does a lot of primary source quoting, so his commentary is "cut up" by uninspiring material. Never quite grasped Ware's importance, but he, Ware not Crane, lost me when I learned that: a. Ware saw the War Graves as an imperial mission and b. didn't like the idea of the Unknown Soldier tomb in Westminster Abbey, one of the most moving sites I've ever visited. Definitely could've been a more engaging, more smoothly written account.
Feb 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating account of the story behind the building of the British and Commonwealth war cemeteries following ‘the War to end all Wars’.
I have visited many of these cemeteries in Northern France and Belgium and on entering them I have always been struck by the uniform rows of headstones, laid out in ‘soldierly rows’, each headstone identical in appearance apart from the personal details inscribed on it.
I had absolutely no idea about the story behind how and why these war cemeteries
Alan Bowker
Aug 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Visitors to Commonwealth War Graves are always moved by the eloquence with which these gardens of the dead convey to the living their profound message of sacrifice and sorrow. It is difficult to imagine how better to convey the tragedy of war in our time. It is therefore startling to realize how recent such things are, how different from the practices of other countries, how much they were the product of the energy, imagination, and determination of one man, Sir Fabian Ware.
In his book Empires o
Saturday's Child
An interesting read about an outcome of WWI and the history behind it.
The subtitle of the book indicates that it should be about the role of Fabian Ware in creating the Imperial War Graves Commission, which undertook the massive task after the First World War of creating the many cemeteries, both in France and Belgium and on a lesser scale across the globe, of the war dead of the United Kingdom and colonial and Dominion countries that sent troops to serve in Britain's war. The book isn't really a complete treatment of Ware, whose early role is laid out in some det ...more
May 21, 2018 rated it liked it
I had high hopes for this book, but was rather disappointed in the content. The author just didn't seem to be able to move the story line ahead...every chapter, even every few pages... seemed to just rehash the same material. It is an interesting topic that I've not seen covered.elsewhere. For as short as this book was, it was painful for me to read and took way to long to finish.
Birgitta Hoffmann
A well researched and referenced book on the history and politics of what became the Commonwealth War graves commission, told very much from the perspective of its 'founder' or first leader Fabian Ware, but focusing only on his involvement with the organisation.
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As I've got more than a passing interest in WWI, and the CWGC is a major part of how we view that war today, this book was a very interesting read. I actually picked it up on a trip to France where I visited (among many other monuments and points of remembrance) the Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme. The way in which the author describes Thiepval, and the infinite sky above it, made me ache - to both return to France and too, the ache of loss so acute and yet so wide at the same time ...more
Stuart Jennings
Jun 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-war-1
At the end of the Great War across the UK there remained large numbers of devastated parents, partners and sibblings morning the loss of loved ones whose mortal remains, if they could be located at all, lay in the mud of France and Flanders. How could this collective grief be expressed in a meaningful way whilst at the same time honouring the fact that so many of these men fought and died alongside friends and comrades. This book tells that story of how these issues were resolved through the vis ...more
Victoria Leo
Nov 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this tour de force

Wonderfully executed narrative history, a history of ideas and ideology as,well as who did what when. Superb recreation of the unimaginably awful days of the war, the emotions of the surviving soldiers, the French, Belgian and German home front, and the transition to Nazi days. I was left with a lust to know how all the cemeteries fare today.... hints of Nazi and Libyan desecration just whet a curiosity that wasn't fed. Engrossing. Highly recommended, balanced.
Caroline Scott
Dec 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating history, told with a confident mastery of the facts. I was really impressed by the standing back sweep of the narration here and there was so much to this story that I didn’t know. Enthusiastically recommended to anyone with an interest in the aftermath of the First World War. Impressive in the fullest sense.
Oct 17, 2014 rated it liked it
A very interesting read about the politics and conflicts during and after the First World War over the concepts, design and establishment of the Commonwealth cemeteries, the Cenotaph and the tomb of The Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.
May 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having visited many of the cemeteries and memorials mentioned in this book, I found this it to be of great interest because it explained how Britain undertook to remember those who were lost in the Great War. Unfortunately, that war led to another war and even more graves.
Larry Schwartz
Dec 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Damn interesting.
An interesting and insightful look at a man and a part of history I never knew much about.
May 27, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
DNF - Unfortunately, there were too many references that this non-military/historian didn't understand. When a passage references Calvinism without an explanation, I was done.
Shaun Major
Jan 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Definitely to be read in parallel with Longworth's official history of the War Graves Commission as well as Hanson's History of the Unknown Soldiers. A remarkable view of an even more remarkable man.
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Apr 29, 2014
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Jan 02, 2015
Steve Jones
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May 28, 2014
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Mar 12, 2014
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Oct 31, 2013
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Aug 04, 2018
« previous 1 3 4 5 next »
  • War of Attrition: Fighting the First World War
  • July Crisis: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914
  • Unknown Soldiers: The Story of the Missing of the First World War
  • Challenge of Battle: The Real Story of the British Army in 1914
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  • Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day, 1918
  • Winston S. Churchill: The Challenge of War, 1914-1916
  • July 1914: Countdown to War
  • Verdun: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War I, 1914-1918
  • Empire of Secrets
  • Somme
  • The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
  • Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History
  • This Long Pursuit: Reflections of a Romantic Biographer
  • A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire
  • Munich, 1938: Appeasement and World War II
  • Wounded: From Battlefield to Blighty, 1914-1918
  • The Missing of the Somme
David Crane read history and English at Oxford University before becoming a lecturer at universities in the Netherlands, Japan, and Africa.

He is the acclaimed biographer of Scott of the Antarctic and of Edward Trelawny, companion of Byron and Shelley. He also wrote The Kindness Of Sisters, an account of the relationship between Byron's widow and his sister-in-law, who bore his child. His book, Em