John Reeve Brooke, first cousin of Rupert Brooke, Adjutant of the Red Cross Mobile Unit with Fabian Ware and first Registrar of the Graves Registration Commission

Rupert Brooke Entry2
Part of a page from a privately held copy of the volume of the Imperial War Graves Commission Index To Cemetery And Memorial Registers of Those Who Fell In The Great War Navy. The handwritten entry (added after the register was printed from punch cards) for Sub Lieutenant Rupert Chawner Brooke can be seen at the bottom of the image. His Enquiry file reference can also be seen on the right hand side of the image, CCM 30305. Rupert Brooke (click here for his entry in the CWGC Casualty Archive) was the first cousin of John Reeve Brooke. The number 5 is the Cemetery Code Number and number 1 is the Country Code Number for the Aegean Islands (for an explanation of how these code numbers work click here, country codes are explained in the entry on French and Belgian cemetery code numbers)

Early Life

John Reeve Brooke was born in 1880 and was the son of a barrister also named John Reeve Brooke (1848-1932). The elder John Reeve Brooke was the son of the Reverend Richard England Brooke (1821-1900) and the brother of William Parker Brooke (1850-1910), Rupert Brooke’s father (see online reference section below).

How many times John Reeve Brooke met his first cousin Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) is not known. Rupert Brooke was seven years younger than his cousin and his father taught at Rugby School in Warwickshire. Rupert Brooke went on from Rugby School to King’s College Cambridge. John Reeve Brooke was educated at Haileybury College School in Hertfordshire followed by Corpus Christi College Oxford.

Like many of the Brooke family John Reeve Brooke was evidently rather clever as he was President of the Oxford Union in 1905. Between 1905 and 1912 a short biography in a 1927 newspaper article (from The Scotsman,  see reference section below) says that he was engaged in ‘social work and journalism’ at this time. The nature of the social work is unclear (perhaps the sort of educational reform supported by Fabian Ware?), but his journalism probably included reporting Parliament as there is a record of Brooke as a member of the Westminster accredited journalists’ Masonic Lodge, known as ‘Gallery Lodge’ in 1911. It is possible that Brooke knew Fabian Ware from Ware’s time as editor of the national Morning Post newspaper between 1905-1911.

His mother is recorded as ‘Living on her own means’ in the 1891 Census when John was 11, whilst his father, a wealthy man at the time of his death in 1932 does not seem to be recorded in the 1891 Census. It is possible that Brooke’s parents had separated or possibly John Reeve Brooke Senior was out of the country at the time of the Census. John Reeve Brooke Junior must have remained close to his father, as the elder John Reeve Brooke is specifically mentioned in his epitaph on his memorial and John Junior had his ashes and his memorial placed in a churchyard near to his father’s long-time residence in the village of Bushey in Hertfordshire: see

Working life before joining the Mobile Unit

Brooke came to be seen as a highly capable administrator judging from his career after he left journalism. He joined the National Health Insurance Commission in 1912 as secretary (assistant) to its head Robert Morant who had been given the unprecedented task of organising the registration and collection of insurance contributions from 15 million people. Morant also had to bring in agreements with doctors to implement a national system of general practitioners (see Pat Thane (2013) The Foundations of the Welfare State. Routledge: Oxford. pp. 78-80). The experience gained by Brooke working on the most ambitious Government project dependent on the collection of personal and other related information to date, must have had an impact on his approach to his later work for Fabian Ware.

Working with the Mobile Unit

Brooke was with Ware from the early days of the Mobile Unit in 1914, joining the Unit on 2 October 1914 and becoming the Unit’s Adjutant, or officer in charge of key elements of its personnel and financial administration. Brooke’s role in the Mobile Unit, aside from recording much of the detail in the early surviving Unit Diaries, is that of administrator and financial manager. For example in a diary entry for Wednesday 16 December 1914 Brooke is recorded as having spent time sorting out longer term arrangements for the finances for the Unit with presumably a Red Cross Official in Boulogne (no page number, C.W.G.C. Archive MU 14 Diary: 12 Dec. 1914 – 6 Apr. 1915). We can also probably find him in London in May 1915 recorded in the Diary of Ivan Bawtree, the well known war graves photographer. Bawtree records how he was interviewed by a Lieutenant ‘Brook’ [missing an e!] who explained to him the dangers faced when visiting graves near the front line (see Jeremy Gordon-Smith (2017) Photographing the Fallen, A War Graves Photographer on the Western Front 1915-1919. Pen & Sword Military: Barnsley, South Yorkshire. p. 8).

In the early days of the Unit we see Brooke’s organisational ability in play, helping to carefully organise drivers to pick up scarce supplies of petrol and other supplies. Examples of Brooke organising this kind of essential work occur in the Order Book, the Letter Book, the Staff Book and the October-November Diary (see below for C.W.G.C. Archive references). In an early instruction from Brooke (issued 8 October 1914, six days after his arrival in France), he gave a member of the Unit an instruction to buy oil with 200 Francs, fetch the post and to pick up a typist (presumably a clerk to work in the Unit’s office). The framing of the instruction has all the signs of a good practical hands-on adminstrator, incorporating directions such as what to do if the accompanying lorry/other drivers were delayed and what to say if stopped (presumably by the French) (see C.W.G.C. Archive MU 19 Order Book. 25 Sep. 1914 – 9 Nov. 1914. pp. 19-22).

Brooke was also good at handling senior officials, for example on the 27 October 1914 substituting for a busy Fabian Ware in a meeting with unhappy Red Cross officials. The meeting was designed to smooth over what the officials by the end of the meeting called a ‘misunderstanding’ about the supply of ambulances for the Unit (no page number, C.W.G.C. Archive MU 14 Diary: 2 Oct.- 3 Nov. 1914).

Brooke’s record under Fabian Ware shows a highly organised administrator capable of executing several tasks at once and able to easily handle the problems of having to work in an environment of a new Unit where ingenuity as well as organisation were required. These qualities seem to have been present in large degree in many of the men who later became the officers of the Graves Registration Commission. As the early days of  improvisation were replaced by increasingly defined management structures (for example with the appointment of a transport adjutant, a quartermaster and a registrar/accounting officer), the Diaries (plus other manuscripts in the C.W.G.C. Archive MU series) show a well organised and capably managed unit.

With the Graves Registration Commission as its first Registrar and Accounting Office

John Reeve Brooke in common with the rest of the officers of the Mobile Unit was given a so called local rank (a temporary rank in the Army on the Western Front) in late February 1915 (Lieutenant) and then a formal Army commission as Captain at the end of September 1915, slightly ahead of the rest of the Commission with its transfer to the Army in October of that year (C.W.G.C. Archive C.W.G.C. 1/1/1/34 DGRE 8 Military Rank and Promotions of Staff, 1918: List 1914 to end 1917).

With the transformation of the Mobile Unit into the G.R.C. in March 1915 he became the first Registrar (his successor was Henry Chettle, who joined the G.R.C. in September 1915, having originally been commissioned into the Army Service Corps in 1914 before later moving to the G.R.C., Ibid), with overall responsibility for the Commission’s newly established enquiry, photographic and grave registration records.

There is a reference to Brooke being in charge of ‘Registers’ in Fabian Ware’s report to the Adjutant General in August 1915 (see C.W.G.C. Archive C.W.G.C.1/1/26 Narrative Letters & Reports: Fabian Ware Report for the Adjutant General (21 August 1915): p. 1). Ware then gives a detailed explanation of the working of the system which was divided into two parts, one register organised by regiment and then alphabetically, the other organised by location [Ibid. For much more detail on the early and later development of the Enquiry and Registration systems of the G.R.C. see entries in the Graves Registration Commission/Directorate of Graves Registration & Enquiries/I.W.G.C. Record Glossary
(particularly the entries for the Card Index, Enquiries Branch, Graves Registration Report and the Registrar)]. A brief outline is also given in Ware’s report of how details of casualties whose graves had been registered by the G.R.C. were checked with Third Echelon (the Army personnel office for the Western Front, located at Rouen from December 1914).

We have direct evidence of Brooke being closely involved in the Registrar’s role from a surviving copy of a three page report on the correct procedure for collecting details on burials (including from Chaplains and the G.R.C. units own findings) and correcting errors made on crosses, including examples of crosses mistakenly erected on graves with the details of living soldiers rather than the correct casualty details. There is also another mention of G.R.C. checking details with Third Echelon (for the correspondence and report see C.W.G.C. Archive GRC 1 Box 2029 Narrative Letters and Reports: attached to a copy letter from Fabian Ware to the Adjutant General, with minutes dated 30 August 1915 and 1 September 1915 also appended).

In another file setting out the organisation of the G.R.C. in March 1915 the role of Registrar was also linked to Brooke’s long established role looking after the finances of the Unit/G.R.U., with his overall role described as that of Registrar and Accounting Officer (C.W.G.C. Archive GRC 4 Box 2029 Organisation: Undated memorandum setting out the roles of various Officers of the G.R.C., including the Registrar and Accounting Officer (including his work with the Photographic and Enquiry Sections) by Fabian Ware).

Uncertainty over the Author(s) of the Early Registry System

How far Brooke was involved in devising the Grave Registration and record systems described above and in more detail in the Glossary is not known.

A 1915 note on Red Cross note paper setting out the principles behind the original 1915 organisation of the Graves Registration Commission is written in a slopping hand, with the writer of the note not yet identified. Part of the note (a sketch of the format of the early registers before the introduction of map references) is discussed in the Graves Registration Report section of the  ‘Graves Registration Commission…’ etc, Glossary (link above).

In contrast we can name the author of the first Commission Enquiries and Photographic records system and Card Index as Charles Pilkington Wilson (C.W.G.C. Archive GRC 5 Box 2029, Section for dealing with Photographs and Enquiries: May 1915). The Enquiry Card Index was closely related to the Registration system (see Glossary, Card Index).

Longworth states in his history of the Commission from 1914, that there were two young officers in the Registration Department responsible for the elaboration of the Registration System (Philip Longworth (1967) The Unending Vigil: The History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Pen & Sword: Barnsley: pp. 8-9).

The three officers we know of who were working with this system at or close to its origin in 1915 and in 1916 do not fit this description.

Pilkington Wilson was born in 1874, John Reeve Brooke in 1880 and Henry Chettle (Brooke’s successor as Registrar) in 1883. None of them were ‘young’. Whatever the source of Longworth’s statement (probably oral testimony), the Registration and Enquiries system that developed from 1915 onwards appears very much to have been a case of incremental development. John Reeve Brooke was part of that process of development during his time with the G.R.C.

Career after Leaving the G.R.C.

John Reeve Brooke was a talented administrator and first and foremost a civilian in uniform with official rank, as was underlined by his subsequent career after leaving the G.R.C.

In January 1916 Brooke transferred to the Royal Garrison Artillery (R.G.A.), the part of the Royal Artillery responsible for heavy artillery (e.g. 9.2 inch howitzers) in the Expeditionary Forces and coastal artillery at home. Brooke left the G.R.C. just before its transformation from February 1916 into the Directorate of Graves Registration & Enquiries (D.G.R. & E) with a new wider role to manage the registration of WW1 war graves in all theatres of war, not just the Western Front, using the systems developed by Fabian Ware and his men in France and Belgium. The work of grave registration now for example included the Mediterranean Theatre and Rupert Brooke’s grave on the Greek island of Skyros:,-rupert-chawner/

Fabian Ware in his supporting comment for Brooke’s January 1916 application for a regular commission in the Royal Garrison Artillery stated that:

‘Most strongly recommended. This officer has been with the G.R.C. since it was established in Feb. 1915 & has shown most unusual administrative ability.

Fabian Ware
Major O.C., G.R.C…’

From The National Archives (TNA) WO 339/53430 Captain Sir John Reeve BROOKE General List. Fabian War G.R.C. Comment on John Reeve Brooke Application for Transfer (7 January 1916). Interestingly Ware dates the foundation of the G.R.C. to February 1915 and ignores Brooke’s service with the Mobile Unit. The G.R.C. is often dated from March 1915 when Ware informed the British Red Cross that the Mobile Unit had made the transition to the Graves Registration Commission.

Brooke only spent three months training with 46 Company Royal Garrison Artillery at Dover before transferring to administrative duties at the War Office (see below) from 25 May 1916 (Ibid. Major Commanding R.G.A. Dover Garrison to H.Q. Dover Garrison (14 February 1916) and Ibid G.P. Hampshire R.Records (War Office) to L.W. Sturges Central Electricity Board (14 April 1937)).

The 1927 newspaper article mentioned earlier from The Scotsman takes up the story from John Reeve Brooke being  ‘…recalled to the War Office and…[serving]…in the recruiting department under Sir Auckland Geddes…’ during a crucial period for recruitment with the introduction of conscription for males between 18-40. Auckland Geddes was a talented administrator who later after becoming Minister of National Service in August 1917 sought to better balance the needs of the Army with the requirement not to conscript workers vital to the wartime economy . Brooke’s work at the War Office was evidently highly thought of with a promotion to ‘Staff Captain and Deputy Assistant Adjutant General’ (WO 339/5430. G.P. Hampshire R.Records (War Office) to L.W. Sturges Central Electricity Board (14 April 1937)). He became a Temporary Staff Captain on the 1 July 1916.

The promotion to Staff Captain meant that he had become part of the British Army’s administrative machine at the War Office and from 28 November 1916 was serving in the capacity of D.A.A.G, (Deputy Assistant Adjutant General) in the Department of the Adjutant General, the department responsible for all matters to do with personnel related issues (including recruitment) in the British Army at this time.

Brooke was probably rather proud of having been a D.A.A.G. as it is mentioned on his epitaph on his memorial, with Brooke’s service in this prestigious role wrongly recorded as having begun in 1915. We have on record that his service with the War Office was very successful as he had his

‘…Name brought to the notice of the Secretary of State for War for valuable services rendered in connection with the Great War (twice) in lists dated 24.2.1917 and 7.8.1917…’

From Ibid.

According to the 1927 article he moved in 1917 from the War Office to a senior civilian appointment at the Ministry of Food, a new and vital ministry charged with sorting out the food shortages caused by German attacks on shipping and the loss of so much agricultural labour to the armed forces. Once again Brooke is named as having worked under a key administrator, this time Lord Rhondda, Minister of Food Control, a survivor of the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 and the minister behind the introduction of an effective system of food rationing in 1918. In a letter from the Ministry of Food dated 8 August 1917 we again see reference to Brooke’s highly developed administrative skills:

‘…Captain Brooke is a Civil Servant who held the rank of senior clerk in the National Health Commission previous to the war, and has had considerable experience in connection with the class of problems which have now to be dealt with by the Ministry of Food.

Further, it is anticipated that the experience he has had in assisting the successful creation of the Army Recruiting Service will be of considerable assistance in creating the Food Control Organisation which Lord Rhondda has in hand…’

From The National Archives (TNA) WO 339/53430 Captain Sir John Reeve BROOKE General List. Assistant Secretary Ministry of Food to The Secretary, The Army Council, War Office (8 August 1917)

Brooke worked as an assistant secretary at the Ministry of Food from 1917 and in late 1918 was in charge of the Imports Board. The Imports Board coordinated purchases of food imports and the allocation of shipping space for the import of foodstuffs (It came into being very late in the War (September 1918) see Dearle N.B. (1928) Dictionary of Official War-Time Organizations. London: Humphrey Milford. p.p. 97-98). It was his war work at the Ministry of Food which earned him the rank of CB (Commander of the Bath, just below a knighthood) in 1919. Between 1923-1927 he was the chief civil servant at the Ministry of Transport and was later involved with the board of the body responsible for providing electric power in the United Kingdom (Cental Electricity Board) at the time when electrification was being steadily rolled out across the country. He was made a full knight in 1928 for his work at the Ministry of Transport.

Brooke married Dorothy Lamb in 1920. She was a well known archaeologist noted for her work in the Mediterranean, see: . Lamb had also worked at the Ministries of National Service and Food during at the same time as Brooke (see ‘David Gill ‘Dorothy Lamb (1887–1967): A Pioneering Mediterranean Field-Archaeologist’, .

At John Reeve Brooke’s memorial service on 7 April 1937 at St Clement Danes Church in London amongst the representatives of the many strands of his busy life was a representative from the Red Cross, to represent his time with the Red Cross Mobile Unit under Fabian Ware and also his successor as Registrar and later Imperial War Graves Commission Director of Records Henry Chettle (‘Memorial Services: Sir John Brooke’ The Times, April 8 1937).

His work helping to organise the Mobile Unit and later the Graves Registration Commission deserves investigation. A list of some of the documents detailing Brooke’s work with the Mobile Unit can be seen at the bottom of the page.


A page from the War Office List for 1917, accurate to the 1 February 1917, showing Brooke’s role in the War Office Recruitment Directorate. As can be seen from the list of ‘Duties’ he was second in a subdivision (D.R. 5) dealing with matters such as policy decisions on which industries/occupations to exempt from conscription. D.R. 5 also worked with the Tribunals set up to hear requests for exemption from and appeals against conscription. Brooke’s appointment as Deputy Assistant Adjutant General (D.A.A.G.) in this difficult area shows how highly regarded he was as an administrator:

The letter D was omitted in error in the 1917 War Office List from the title of the subdivision. The correct title of the subdivision was D.R. 5.

References (where not cited or fully cited in the text)

Newspaper References

For a comprehensive biography up to 1927 see ‘Electricity Board: Officials Appointed’, The Scotsman 27 March 1927.

The Article can be found at British Newspapers Online (or via Findmypast), both Pay Sites. The BNA link is here.

For a very short obituary see ‘John Reeve Brooke’, Belfast News Letter, 2 April 1937.

The Article can be found at British Newspapers Online (or via Findmypast), both Pay Sites. The BNA link is here.

Online References (where not cited in the article)

Ancestry (Pay Site):

1851 Census, Brooke family including John Reeve Brooke (Senior) and his brother William Parker Brooke (father of Rupert Brooke), click here.

1881 John Reeve Brooke (Senior) and his family (including John Reeve Brooke Junior) recorded visiting another house, click here.

1891 John Reeve Brooke (Junior) living with his mother, who may have been separated from John Reeve Brooke (Senior). Entry found on Findmypast as details not correctly transcribed in Ancestry. For consistency the link here is to Ancestry using search name Florence E. Keble.

1911 Census. Occupation recorded as ‘Journalist’, click here.

Membership of the Gallery Lodge, click here.

1914 Star Medal Roll (under the British Red Cross Society) here.

British War Medal & Victory Medal Roll (under the General and Special List) here.

Medal Card here.

John Reeve Brooke (Senior’s) 1932 entry in the Index of Wills and Adminstrations, here.

John Reeve Brooke’s 1937 entry in the Index of Wills and Administrations, here.

Dictionary of National Biography (which can be accessed online, often as part of the online resources offered by local library services)

Adrian Caesar, ‘Brooke, Rupert Chawner (1887–1915)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008 [, accessed 20 April 201813 Sept 2017]

Rupert Chawner Brooke (1887–1915): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/32093

Findmypast (Pay Site)

1920 Marriage Certificate (23 March, in St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, the Parliamentary Church next to Westminster Abbey), here.

1920 Marriage as recorded in the General Register Office Index are as follows:

John R. Brooke married Dorothy Lamb in the first quarter of 1920 in the civil registration district of St George Church Hanover Square Volume 1a Page 921 (details from FreeBMD)

Internet Archive

John Reeve Brooke (Senior), record at Haileybury School and his subsequent education/career (also an entry for his brother William Parker Brooke, father of Rupert Brooke who was also at Haileybury School), in the 1891 edition of the Haileybury Register, click here.

John Reeve Brooke’s career at Haileybury College (his father’s old school), in the 1910 edition of the Haileybury Register, click here.

Some Mobile Unit Documents in the C.W.G.C. Archive Associated with John Reeve Brooke (from the old C.W.G.C. Archive catalogue):

14 MU 14 Diary Of Events. 2 Oct. 1914 – 7 Apr, 1915

Envelope containing 4 bound MS. diaries of the Red Cross Mobile Unit and its Detached Section.

Main topics: Ambulance operations of the Amiens-Lille Unit of the British Red Cross Society, including work with French army.


11. Diary of events by J.R.Brooke, 2 Oct.- 3 Nov. 1914.
12. Diary of events by J.R. Brooke, 4 Dec.- 11 Dec. 1914.
13. Diary of events by J.R.Brooke, unknown writer and J. Boswell, 12 Dec. 1914 – 6 Apr. 1915.

14. Diary of events for Detached Section of Mobile Unit by Dr Hebblethwaite, with MS. copies of letters re French provisioning regulations, 27 Feb.- 7 Apr.

15 MU 15 Diary Of Staff Meetings. 9 Dec. 1914 – 26 Feb. 1915

Envelope containing bound MS. diary.
Main topics: conditions of work of Red Cross Mobile Unit, equipment and discipline.

Documents are mainly by J .R.Brooke.

16 MU 17 Letter Book. 25 Sep. 1914 – 22 Dec. 1914

Envelope containing bound carbon copy book of MS. letters.
Main topics: early organisation and ambulance operations of Red Cross Mobile Unit.

Documents are by F. Ware and J.R.Brooke.

17 MU 19 Order Book. 25 Sep. 1914 – 9 Nov. 1914

Envelope containing bound carbon copy book of MS. orders.
Main topics: ambulance operations and supplies to Red Cross Mobile Unit.

Orders are by A.(?)Barry, F. Ware, A. Messer, J.R.Brooke, issued to personnel of the Red Cross Mobile Unit.


  1. A very interesting article with lots of background info on John Reeve Brooke. A close friend of John Reeve Brooke at Corpus Christi College Oxford was the future editor of Punch magazine (1932-1949), the humourist E V Knox and they remained friends. I think they may have shared a set of rooms together at Corpus Christi, along with Owen de Wesselow, who was to become an eminent physician. Knox and his first wife Christina (d 1935) often dined with John and Dorothy Brooke and a mutual friend was the author Rose Macaulay. According to Ruth Dudley Edwards, the biographer of Victor Gollancz, Gollancz’s wife Ruth was very fond of John Reeve Brooke (possibly incurring Gollancz’s jealousy!), so much so that she limited their meetings to one luncheon a year! I note from The Times record of Brooke’s memorial service that Ruth attended (listed as Mrs Victor Gollancz). John and Dorothy were friends with the Gollanczs and apparently were frequent guests at the Gollancz house at Brimpton along with other literary guests such as Rose Macaulay and the cartoonist David Low.


    1. A very interesting comment that adds more to the biography of John Reeve Brooke. His memorial service was a testament to a busy, accomplished and useful life.


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