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 to be buried in local cemeteries. The great cemeteries of WWI came about as a result of the efforts of one inspired visionary. In 1914, Fabian Ware, at 45, was too old to enlist. Instead, he joined the Red Cross, working on the front line in France. There he was horrified by the ignominious end to the lives of many of the soldiers who, buried hastily, were often lost as the battle lines moved backward and forward over the same ground. He recorded their identity and the position of their graves, and his work was quickly officially recognised, with a Graves Registration Commission being set up. As reports of their work became public, the Commission was flooded with letters from grieving relatives around the world. Critically acclaimed author David Crane gives a profoundly moving account of the creation of the great citadels to the dead, which involved leading figures of the day, including Kipling, Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll. It is the story of both cynical political motivation, as governments sought to justify the sacrifices made, as well as the outpouring of great personal grief, following the 'war to end all wars'.
About the Author
David Crane's first book, Lord Byron’s Jackal was published to great acclaim in 1998, and his second, The Kindness of Sisters published in 2002, is a groundbreaking work of romantic biography. In 2005 the highly acclaimed Scott of the Antarctic was published, followed by Men of War, a collection of 19th Century naval biographies, in 2009. Crane lives in north-west Scotland.
'Of the avalanche of books to commemorate the centennial of the opening of the Great War, 'Empires of the Dead' is the most original, best written and most challenging so far. Mercifully, it is also one of the shortest. It strikes at the heart of the current debate about what we are commemorating, celebrating or deploring in the flood of ceremony, debate and literary rows about the meaning of the First World War today. Crane succeeds in doing so by looking at the achievement of Fabian Ware, who to this day is almost an unknown in the pantheon of heroes or villains associated with the conflict' Evening Standard 'Outstanding ... Crane shows how extraordinary a physical, logistical and administrative feat it was to bury or commemorate more than half a million dead in individual graves. And he reveals that this Herculean task was accomplished largely due to the efforts of one man: Fabian Ware' Independent on Sunday 'Vivid and compelling ... David Crane writes exuberant, joyful prose. He is acutely aware of the ambiguities and nuances surrounding the issues of war and death; and that makes this a fine and troubling book, as well as a riveting read' Literary Review 'A superb study. The story of the foundation and achievements of the War Graves Commission has been told before, but never so well or so perceptively. Crane brings out the complexities of Ware's character ... his brilliance as a diplomat ... and the paradoxes in his achievement' Spectator 'The most original, shortest and best written of the year's tsunami of books on the impact of the Great War' Evening Standard, Books of the Year 'Excellent' Sunday Times 'Intensely moving' Boyd Tonkin, Independent 'A beautifully researched and written book, an intellectually honest work of history' Guardian
Number Of Pages: 304
Published: 1st July 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Dimensions (cm): 19.6 x 12.8 x 2.2
Weight (kg): 0.31