For me, working for the CWGC is not just professional, it is also personal; as it is for many I know who work for this truly unique organisation.
I always knew my father had joined the British Army’s Cyprus Regiment in 1942, aged 19. However, it was after I transferred to Cyprus in 2016 to oversee the Commission’s Mediterranean Area, and I was studying a memorial to those who served in the Cyprus Regiment for the first time, that I started to think about how my father avoided talking about his war experience.
Other than telling me that the scars on his face were caused by a landmine that killed his best friend, he didn’t speak about his time in the army. I never pushed my father to say more and, now, wish I had.
I have looked after cemeteries for 33 years. My first one was the Tower Hamlets and City of London Cemetery, then under the care of the former Greater London Council, with others that followed within the Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and the London Borough of Newham local authority areas. However, much of my career was spent managing the City of London Cemetery at Manor Park.
When people find out you work in cemeteries, they invariably ask what it is like to work looking after the dead. It is a natural question, but I invariably respond by first sharing my experience of working with the recently bereaved which, actually, is the most important element.
Within the grounds of the 200-acre City of London Cemetery there are two CWGC memorials as well as many individual graves. So, before joining the CWGC in 2009, I had some knowledge of the organisation’s world-wide maintenance task.
I started working for the CWGC as Director for the Northern-Europe Area which was subsequently merged with our France area to form the Western Europe Area; overseeing the CWGC’s commitments stretching from the south coast of France to the tip of Norway and from Normandy to Estonia.
Moving to the CWGC, which cares for casualties of the two world wars, I wrongly assumed that dealing with the bereaved would no longer be a part of my work. I had not realised that casualties continue to be recovered and identified, and that so many family members continue to attend burial services at CWGC cemeteries.
In 2016, I transferred to Cyprus to oversee our Mediterranean Area and an interesting mix of countries stretching from Portugal to Azerbaijan and from Syria to Morocco. Born in London, to an English mother and a Turkish-Cypriot father a move to Cyprus, seemed quite a natural change from Northern Europe.
Within the ‘Green Line’ that separates the Republic of Cyprus and the northern part of the island, rests the Nicosia War Cemetery inside which is the memorial to those who served in the Cyprus Regiment (Cyprus was a British Crown colony from 1925-1960). It was here I started to think about how my father avoided talking about the war.
I had recently discovered that my father served in some of the countries covered by the Mediterranean Area – including Egypt, Palestine and Italy. My thoughts then turned to my maternal grandfather, who served in both world wars, and was also awarded the Italy Star. It left me wondering whether the two ever met.