Jack Owen reflects on his time as a CWGC Intern
For the last four months I have been working as an intern with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), at Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial, in Belgium.
It has been a rewarding and humbling experience to work at the world’s largest CWGC cemetery. The purpose of my role was to tell the stories of the servicemen and women commemorated and to share the 101 years of work by the CWGC.
Part of my duties involved helping visitors locate a grave or memorial entry for a relative. I assisted in helping Bob Moore locate the memorial entry to his late grandfather, Sergeant Adam Tait. It was a privilege to learn about Adam’s story and to assist Bob.
Adam Tait was a former serviceman from Northumberland. He re-enlisted at the outbreak of the First World War and joined the Northumberland Fusiliers, an infantry regiment of the British Army.
While in the trenches at Line Ridge Wood, near Ouderdom, his battalion came under heavy shelling. Sadly, Adam and 81 others were killed.
As Adam’s remains were never found, he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the missing, alongside more than 34,000 other names of those with no known grave. Adam was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal posthumously for an action on 26 June 1918 where he had shown “conspicuous gallantry & devotion to duty” for valuable patrol work before a raid, in which “he took a prominent part in hand to hand fighting”.
It was a moving day for Bob Moore and his family and I saw first-hand the importance of commemoration.
Working for the CWGC has opened my eyes to the level of detail used to commemorate the Commonwealth fallen, from the Cross of Sacrifice in locations with more than 40 burials to the planting in front of headstones, all uniform and kept to the same standards in all 23,000+ locations.
Talking to the gardeners (who between them have 90 years’ experience working for CWGC) highlighted features of the site I’d never noticed, such as the six different kinds of roses planted at Tyne Cot, the chives planted to help pollination, and the splash plants used to protect the headstones. The dedication and care the team took in their jobs was remarkable.
I have my own personal connection to the CWGC. During my internship I had the opportunity to visit my great uncle’s grave in France. My great uncle, James Owen was killed in June 1916 in the Somme, and is buried at Auchonvillers Military Cemetery. I was the first member of my family to visit his grave. It was a strange feeling seeing his headstone. Although I never met him, and his death was over 100 years ago, there was still a connection.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time as an intern. It has provided me with invaluable experience working and living abroad and I highly recommend people to apply.