We are currently in the midst of War Graves Week. Organised by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) the event is designed to highlight the work of the commission in the United Kingdom. Although perhaps best known for their work in tending the huge cemeteries in the former battlefields of the Great War in France and Flanders, the commission also oversees burials, or commemorations, of 336,000 service personnel in the United Kingdom.
Unlike overseas burials, families in the United Kingdom were able to choose the last resting place of their relatives. Although there are a handful of substantial war cemeteries in the UK, the largest example being the large 5,000 grave Brookwood site, the vast majority of the graves overseen by the CWGC are in individual churchyards spread across the length and breadth of the country.
At Filey St Oswald’s the CWGC has twenty-five registered graves. Not all lie beneath the standard white headstone so recognisably that of the CWGC. Six of the graves date from the Great War, whilst nineteen come from the Second World War. There are eleven soldiers, nine sailors and five airmen. Whilst the bulk, fourteen, are Filey men, there are also three Polish soldiers and two Canadian airmen. The Polish graves are recognisable by their slightly conical shaped tops that mark them out from the usual Commonwealth burial markers.
On a number of family graves, Filey men who were killed on active service, but are buried or commemorated elsewhere, are remembered with inscriptions on family graves. One example being Charles Bailey who was killed when the battleship HMS Royal Oak was torpedoed in Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands.
There are a myriad of stories surrounding the service personnel remembered by the CWGC. Many died defending the home front, others were drowned at sea or made it home to Britain, only to succumb to wounds received on the front line. The website of the CWGC can be searched by surname or location. It is a fascinating and truly humbling archive.