Jane Ridley

At Their Last Post

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

By

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In April 1915 a 29-year-old lieutenant named William Gladstone was killed in France after only a few days in the trenches. The exhumation of soldiers’ bodies was forbidden, but this particular lieutenant was the grandson of the statesman Gladstone and his devastated parents pressured Prime Minister Asquith to wangle permission for his body to be exhumed and shipped home. He was buried next to his father at Hawarden. To us this might seem only fitting, but at the time it provoked howls of criticism. Some claimed it was outrageous that string-pulling, wealthy toffs should be allowed the privilege of home burials while the bodies of the poor lay rotting in France. On the other hand, it could be argued that the nation had no right to own the bodies of the men who had given their lives in its service.

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