This poster is part of Preserving U.S. Military Heritage: WWII to the Cold War, Fredericksburg, Texas, June 4-6, 2019.
by Dr. Catherine Paterson
Throughout the United States, there are graves and memorials for servicemen and servicewomen who died during the Second World War while serving with Commonwealth Forces. They include Americans who enlisted in Canadian Forces and died in Canada, the United States, or overseas and were buried in their hometown cemetery. There are also those from Commonwealth nations who died while on active service in the United States, the majority while flying out of Air Force training camps, and who were buried in a local cemetery. The graves of these 674 war dead of the Second World War are found in 247 cemeteries across 48 States and include graves in National Cemeteries and also single graves or organized plots with horticultural features in public cemeteries.
These graves are the responsibility of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, established in 1917, that today commemorates 1.7 million war dead who died while serving with Commonwealth Forces during the First and Second World Wars and who are buried in 154 countries. The Commission’s founding principles were established to ensure individual, equal, dignified, and permanent commemoration of every Commonwealth war dead on a headstone at the grave or on a memorial to the missing. Following the construction period after the Second World War, the Commission’s work has focused on the maintenance of its headstones, memorials, and horticultural features. This was carried out for many years with a short-term approach of renewal through replacement of material. More recently, however, the Commission has shifted its approach to emphasize the preservation of headstones and memorials.
Using examples from sites across the United States, the proposed poster will highlight the range of work to preserve headstones and memorials for Second World War war dead in ways that ensure they continue to meet the standards set out when the Commission was established. This includes cyclical inspection and maintenance, developing standards for headstone cleanliness, and implementing standardized criteria to determine when a headstone is no longer legible and requires replacement. In sites with memorials and a concentration of graves, practices also now include carrying out condition surveys and researching site history and significance to inform decisions being made about monument and memorial preservation.
The proposed poster aims to contribute to the symposium through a discussion of the preservation of monuments of Commonwealth war dead of the Second World War buried in the United States. It includes examples of specific methods for caring for marble and granite monuments and also touches more broadly on how these particular monuments are part of a wider American military heritage.
Catherine Paterson began working for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 2016. She is part of the works team responsible for the care of Commission headstones and memorials throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. She comes from a background of cemetery and monument conservation and earned her PhD from McMaster University in 2013 researching the heritage of pioneer cemeteries in Ontario, Canada.