For ‘What does the Army/District etc information at the top of the Graves Registration Report mean?’ click here
For Graves Registration Units and Areas March 1915-June 1919 click here
Organisation of Burial Reports by Commune
Once the grave had been registered by a GRU a preliminary report was issued and later replaced by the so-called comprehensive report. The process that led to a report being ‘certified’/verified is discussed at the end of the page. Reports were completed on a communal basis (e.g. Izel-les-Equerchin) in both France and Belgium (though not other theatres e.g. Gallipoli etc.).
The organisation of reports by commune is mentioned in many places in the Enquiry files with for example a slip in one file mentioning reports for Vermand, Maissemy and Marteville in France in 1920 in the Aisne region of France (C.W.G.C. Archive Enquiry file, PH 24/11963). Another slip from the enquiry file for 33351, Lance Corporal Upham of the 11/ Border Regiment mentions that a number of burials of men from that Battalion are noted but not for Corporal Upham (C.W.G.C. Archive YP 2/631: slip (29 June 1921)). The reports searched were in the Nieuport Commune .
Comprehensive Report page from Tyne Cot Cemetery, Ypres Salient http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/462416/CRANE,%20JOHN%20CHARLE
2. Understanding the Numbering System of Communal Reports
The connection between the Communal Reports (referred to in the extract as ‘Graves Reports‘) and the Graves Registration Report Form (Army Form W. 3372) which survive in their final form covering the completed cemeteries and C.W.G.C. maintained burials (known as the Comprehensive Reports, sometimes the earlier, ‘Preliminary Reports’ which are provisional G.R.R.F.s burial returns also survive) is made clear in the May 1918 revision of the D.G.R.E. Standing Orders [Editor’s note: handwritten amendments made by Major Chettle, the future I.W.G.C. Director of Records are shown in brackets, the words they were intended to replace, presumably in a future edition, have a line through them and he clearly intended to replace unfamiliar continental terms/specific locations with generic and anglicized terms.]:
‘2. Graves Reports. – [Editor’s note: this stage is likely to be the preliminary report stage following the first mention of the burial in an S.S.P. report] Immediately a cross is erected or a plate affixed to an existing cross, the grave must be reported to D.G.R. & E.
All graves must be reported on Army Form W. 3372, except the graves of [allied] French troops, which are reported on an unofficial form provided for that purpose.
All reports must be made by Communes [the local administrative area], and each burying place in the Commune [area] must bear a separate permanent report number with the schedules (that is, the pages of the report) bearing a consecutive number. The first report of graves found at Gunners’ Farm Cemetery, in the [parish] Commune of Ploegstreert will be headed: –
(Army Serial Number.) Commune Ploegsteert [Parish Y.]. Report
No.1 Schedule No. 1. Gunners’ Farm Cemetery.
All subsequent burials in Gunners’ Farm Cemetery will have the same heading, save that each schedule takes the next consecutive number, so that the second schedule of the report would read: –
(Army Serial Number.) Commune Ploegsteert [Parish Y.]. Report
No. 1. Schedule No. 2. Gunners’ Farm Cemetery.
The first report of graves found in Canadian Cemetery (Strand) [W Cemetery], which is also in the Commune of Ploegsteert [Parish Y], would read: –
(Army Serial Number.) Commune Ploegsteert [Parish Y.] Report
No. 2. Schedule No. 1. Canadian Cemetery [W] (Strand).
and subsequent reports would bear the same heading, except that each schedule takes the next consecutive higher number, as before.’
From Commonwealth War Graves Commission CWGC/1/1/1/38/3 38 Add 3/1/3 Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries – Standing Orders. Revised to 1st May, pp. 4-5
The difference between ‘Graves Reports’ (Communal Reports) as discussed in the extract from the May 1918 Standing Orders and completed Comprehensive Reports for completed plots (groups of graves) in cemeteries (also completed on Army Form W. 3372) can be seen below [Editor’s note: as with the previous extract from the Standing Orders Chettle’s crossings out are shown below]:
‘3. Comprehensive Reports.—
(1) Of Plots. – As soon as a plot has been filled up, the G.R. Unit Officer will inform the D.A.D.G.R. & E. [Deputy Assistant D.G.R. & E.] of the Army (or L. of C. [Editor’s note: Line of Communications?] who will at once see that a complete report of the plot, called a Comprehensive Report, is prepared. The report will be made by the G.R. Unit Officer and typed by the D.A.D.G.R. & E.’s clerks [Editor’s note: the D.A.D.G.R. of E. was also responsible for typing the earlier grave/preliminary reports on an A.F. W. 3372], and will be checked by the Survey Officer when making the Record plan of the plot. It should be made from the existing reports, and should embody all corrections known to the G.R. Unit Officer or to the D.A.D.G.R. & E.; but the crosses should be carefully checked against the existing reports, and any mistakes discovered (such as omissions, or duplication of crosses) should be rectified if possible, or reported to D.G.R. & E., War Office.
When all the names in a previous report are contained in a Comprehensive Report, the Comprehensive Report should be marked: “This cancels Report……Schedules……,” or “This cancels Report……Schedules……except……,” and the earlier Reports should be marked on the file copy: “Cancelled by……,” or “Cancelled by……except……”
The report number will be the same that is already used for the location, and the schedules will be numbered 1c, 2c, and so on.’
From Commonwealth War Graves Commission (G.W.G.C.) 38 Add 3/1/3 Directorate Of Graves Registration And Enquiries – Standing Orders. Revised to 1st May, pp. 5-6
Therefore each consecutive report number represents a new updated version of the Communal Report, with Report No 38 being the 38th version of the report for that particular Commune. Some communal reports became overtime Cemetery reports using the same forms, others were started for individual cemeteries using the same form as the cemeteries were established. Surviving examples of Cemetery reports which originated in Communal and/or Cemetery reports can be found in the C.W.G.C. Casualty Archive.
Communal, Preliminary (and later Comprehensive) reports were therefore issued with different/consecutive numbers for each cemetery/isolated burial within a particular commune e.g. Berks Military Cemetery, Report No.13, see table. This system can be seen in action by first looking at the surviving G.R.R.F. (A.F. W. 3372) reports for C.W.G.C. WW1 cemeteries in the Ploegsteert Commune including the two examples mentioned in the Standing Orders. The cemeteries have the following reference numbers on their reports (the table is organised by report number, with the highest report number first):
|Place of Burial (see C.W.G.C. website for the G.R.R.F.s for each of the cemeteries)||Serial Nos||Report Nos (version number):||Schedule No (page numbers):|
|Strand Military Cemetery||4111-4135, 5035-5039, 4137-4147 (No Army group number noted, just D.G.R.E. South Sub District, No. 5 District. Serial No…). The remaining 31 pages of schedules drawn up by the I.W.G.C. do not have Serial Nos.||38||1c to 76c. The pages within this report were completed between 1920 to 1931, a 2002 return for the cemetery does not use the long out of use referencing system. Note: Most forms were completed at the time of the laying out of the cemetery.|
|Berks Cemetery Extension||5720-5735 (2nd Army Serial Nos) Note: Half of reports Serial Nos covered over by paper slips.||13||1c to 48c Rev [Revised]. Pages completed 1920 to 1930. Note: as above.|
|Hyde Park Corner (Royal Berks Cemetery)||2133-2136 (No Army group number noted, just D.G.R.E. South Sub District, No. 5 District. Serial No…).||6||1c to 4c. Pages completed in 1920.|
|Gunners’ Farm Military Cemetery||5013-5016 (No Army group number noted, just D.G.R.E. South Sub District, No. 5 District. Serial No…).||1||1c to 4c. Pages completed in 1920.|
Gunner’s Farm Cemetery has an identifying report number of 1, showing that the example given in the Standing Orders was taken from an actual working example. Strand Cemetery is given the report no 38, which shows that in this case the report number was probably changed to ‘2’ in the example given in the Standing Orders to make the pattern of numbering clear.
In Depth: Versions of the Graves Registration Report Form- Some examples and case studies
1. Original Version Printed 10/16
Comprehensive Report page from Doudelainville Communal Cemetery, Somme, See http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2913590/FENTON,%20J
The above was written on the original version of the Graves Registration Report Form from 1916, which can be seen from the print date of 10/16 and the form version being W3372/1. Due to the continuing development both before and after WW1 the survival of this first version of the report is very rare, with this copy, completed in 1917, the only copy found to date.
The reason for the form’s survival is that interestingly these ‘isolated graves’ were not concentrated into a larger cemetery as was both Army policy and I.W.G.C. policy once it had fully taken over management of WW1 related cemeteries and burials from the Army in 1921. This means that we have ‘Report No 1’ from 1917 as no other Commonwealth military burials were made and there was therefore no need to produce an updated report.
The C.W.G.C. history of Doudelainville does not mention why these three graves were not concentrated after the end of the War and it appears from Jerrold’s history of the Royal Naval Division that between May to July 1916 the Division was in training around Abbeville away from the Western Front (Jerrold, Douglas (2009) The Royal Naval Division. Uckfield: Naval & Military Press: p.p. 170-174). The men concerned were all part of the Royal Naval Division, a Division of sailors and marines formed to fight as soldiers and who fought besides the Army at locations from Gallipoli to the Western Front ( For a brief history of the deployment of the Royal Naval (63rd) Division during WW1 see http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/63rd-royal-naval-division/). Sub.Lieutenant Hancock, Able Seaman Fenton LZ/2509 and Able Seaman TZ/4823 Stephenson all died on the 2nd June 1916 as the result of an accident with a faulty Mill’s Bomb grenade.
Although the graves at Doudelainville were not at risk as they are located in part of a French communal cemetery, it is puzzling that they were not relocated to Abbeville where there were two major British war cemeteries in the town (with a total of 2,532 WW1 C.W.G.C. graves) as according to the CWGC History of Abbeville Communal Cemetery:
‘For much of the First World War, Abbeville was headquarters of the Commonwealth lines of communication [Army logistics] and No.3 BRCS [Editor’s note: British Red Cross], No.5 and No.2 Stationary Hospitals were stationed there variously from October 1914 to January 1920. The communal cemetery was used for burials from November 1914 to September 1916, the earliest being made among the French military graves. The extension was begun in September 1916 (http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/7500/ABBEVILLE%20COMMUNAL%20CEMETERY).’
2. 1917 and 1918 Print Runs: 1/17, 10/17, 4/18 &
Comprehensive Report page from Etaples Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, copyright Commonwealth War Graves Commission. See http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/504973/PRESTON,%20JOHN%20ARTHUR
The next version of the form dates from January 1917 (the print date is 1/17) and more frequently survives in the G.W.G.C.’s records, often associated with cemeteries such as Etaples which were well behind the lines. This form was received by the D.G.R.E. in October 1918. The C.W.G.C. history for Etaples sets out the nature of the Army base that the cemetery served:
‘During the First World War, the area around Etaples was the scene of immense concentrations of Commonwealth reinforcement camps and hospitals. It was remote from attack, except from aircraft, and accessible by railway from both the northern or the southern battlefields. In 1917, 100,000 troops were camped among the sand dunes and the hospitals, which included eleven general, one stationary, four Red Cross hospitals and a convalescent depot, could deal with 22,000 wounded or sick. In September 1919, ten months after the Armistice, three hospitals and the Q.M.A.A.C. convalescent depot remained.’
Unlike such cemeteries nearer the front line, the cemeteries were well ordered before the end of World War One and avoided the need for mass exhumation to try and verify or identify the occupants of the graves. Only 35 of the 10,771 WW1 graves are unidentified, less than 1% of the total. A page from the Comprehensive Report for Etaples Military Cemetery can be seen after the next three pages.
The print information included at the bottom of the form reveals that between the October 1916 and January 1917 print runs of the Graves Report Reference Form W. 3772/1 50,000 copies of the form were produced, with the introduction and large-scale printing of this form in its first two batches possibly being influenced by the roughly 100,000 deaths experienced between July to December 1916 in the Battle of the Somme (War Office (1922) Statistics Of The Military Effort Of The British Empire During the Great War 1914-1920: p. 324). This was the last version of the form to include specific reference to the Grave Registration Section (or Unit) involved, probably reflecting the increasing importance of the new Deputy Assistant Directors Graves Registration & Enquiries based at the relevant Army H.Q.s. (e.g. Second Army) from late 1917 alongside the Graves Registration Units in approving the certification/completion of Comprehensive and other reports.
The page which follows from Lille Gate Cemetery shows the pace of printing and registration being influenced by major battles, with 45,000 of this new version of the form (W. 3772/2) printed in October 1917 and 70,000 in April 1918. October 1917 was near the climax of the Third Battle of Ypres, whilst April 1918 was during the time of the massive 1918 German Spring Offensive on the Western Front.
Comprehensive Report page from Ramparts Gate Cemetery, Lille Gate, Ypres, copyright Commonwealth War Graves Commission. See http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/446869/HOGAN,%20SAMUEL%20THOMAS
The total print run of 165,000 W. 3772 Comprehensive report forms of 165,000 comes from a D.G.R.E. organisation that had by December 1918 registered 336,044 graves in France and Belgium (C.W.G.C. Archive CWGC/1/1/1/37 WG 1609 War Office File H 1/3 – Record Of Directorate; 1918). By way of comparison the anonymous introduction to the ‘Registration of Graves’ section in the War Office (1922) Statistics Of The Military Effort Of The British Empire During the Great War 1914-1920, relates that 441,274 graves had been registered on the Western Front by 20th May 1920 (Ibid: p. 351) an increase of 105,230 graves since December 1918.
Looking at the Comprehensive Report Forms in terms of the numbers of entries made gives us a good idea of how many individual entries these forms could hold. Etaples and Lille Gate have 10,771 and 198 WW1 graves respectively (although additional French WW1 graves have been removed from Lille Gate). A count of the entries for each individual grave on the Doudelainville, Etaples and Lille Gate sheets has figures of 3, 20 and 23 respectively. The 165,000 forms Comprehensive Report forms printed between 1916 to 1918, almost all for the Western Front and Italy (the Middle East, Africa and other theatres are discussed in another chapter) would if each page were completed with 20 entries provide space to record 3.3 million graves before the Armistice in November 1918. However we also need to take into account the large number of small or isolated cemeteries such as Doudelainville before 1919 and also the number of revised reports made [the system is explained later in this section] as represented by the ‘Report No.’ indicating the number of times the report had been revised and reissued at the top of the Comprehensive Report. In the case of a cemetery such as the Ramparts Gate Cemetery the page was ‘Report No. 31’ by the time this page and the final Comprehensive Report forms were submitted for this cemetery in March 1920. Both the number of grave sites and revised versions of the reports meant that more of the forms would have been used by November 1918 than if D.G.R.E. had been registering just large or medium sized cemeteries.
3. Forms printed after 1918
The number of Comprehensive Report forms printed after 1918 continued to reflect the changing situation of the war graves on the Western Front in the period 1919-1921.
The next print run of the Graves Registration Report Form, W. 3772/1-2, which had last been printed in April 1918 also helps us to understand the volume of work required following the Armistice. Whereas a total of 165,000 forms had been printed between October 1916 to April 1918, the September 1919 print run of W.3772/3 forms was of 100,000, the largest single run of this form made for WW1 casualties and 37% of the total of W. 3772 forms printed between 1916-1921.
The German and then Allied Offensives of 1918 meant the prospect of artillery damage and other damage to the graves as the offensive moved through the area concerned. Wooden crosses and grave markers were easily disturbed or destroyed. Burials could be obliterated. This had always been a risk before 1918 but much damage was done by both German and Allied Artillery during 1918 as territory more rapidly changed hands. A report from D.G.R.E. on its work in 1918 shows the extent that the events of 1918 had affected the cemeteries, with an estimated 50% of registered graves and cemeteries falling into German hands, with reports of damage due to military action (C.W.G.C. Archive CWGC/1/1/1/37 WG 1609 War Office File H 1/3 – Record Of Directorate; 1918).
The size of the post-Armistice task faced by the Army in reconstructing cemeteries and concentrating Commonwealth burials into new and existing cemeteries whilst attempting to as far as possible identify the dead is shown by the following figures for registered graves and exhumations.
By 1928 in France and Belgium a total of 408,195 ‘known’ Commonwealth graves had been registered, with another 148,238 ‘unknown’ graves registered (The Times (1929) War Graves of The Empire: Reprinted from the Special Number of the Times November 10, 1928. Times: London p. 10). Roughly 20,000 of the 1928 figure came from bodies found since 1921 by the I.W.G.C. after taking over exhumation work from the Army in September 1921(Ibid: p. 6). With the exhumation and attempt at identification of some ‘…204,654 bodies..[between]…the Armistice and [the end of the full-scale search] in September 1921…(Ibid: p. 5)’, by the Army the majority of which would have taken place on the former Western Front the scale of the war grave work between the Armistice and September 1921 becomes clear.
A good example of this work in terms of exhumations and ‘concentration’ is provided by Tyne Cot Cemetery. A brief look at Tyne Cot follows examples of Comprehensive Reports from Etaples, Ramparts Cemetery and Tyne Cot.
Comprehensive Report page from Tyne Cot Cemetery, Ypres Salient, See http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/462416/CRANE,%20JOHN%20CHARLES
Tyne Cot Cemetery with its association with the 1917 Third Battle of Ypres, particularly Passchendaele can be seen from the C.G.W.C. history to be an entirely different case to Etaples and in many ways typical of so many front-line cemeteries in France and Belgium which were also reconstructed and often used for concentration purposes after the Armistice:
‘Tyne Cot’ or ‘Tyne Cottage’ was the name given by the Northumberland Fusiliers to a barn which stood near the level crossing on the Passchendaele-Broodseinde road. The barn, which had become the centre of five or six German blockhouses, or pill-boxes, was captured by the 3rd Australian Division on 4 October 1917, in the advance on Passchendaele.
One of these pill-boxes was unusually large and was used as an advanced dressing station after its capture. From 6 October to the end of March 1918, 343 graves were made, on two sides of it, by the 50th (Northumbrian) and 33rd Divisions, and by two Canadian units. The cemetery was in German hands again from 13 April to 28 September, when it was finally recaptured, with Passchendaele, by the Belgian Army.
TYNE COT CEMETERY was greatly enlarged after the Armistice when remains were brought in from the battlefields of Passchendaele and Langemarck, and from a few small burial grounds…’
A good indicator of the job faced in reconstructing these cemeteries can be seen from the number and percentage of total graves containing unknown WW1 soldiers in Tyne Cot. Whilst artillery and other damage meant that there are special memorials to 81 soldiers known to be buried at Tyne Cot but without identified graves and 20 to soldiers who were buried at cemeteries concentrated into Tyne Cot but whose bodies could not be identified at the time of concentration (See Chapman, P. (2016) Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial. Kindle ed. Pen & Sword: Barnsley). Of the 11,961 Commonwealth burials in Tyne Cot . 8,373 of the burials in Tyne Cot are unidentified (including 3 German graves) representing 70% of those buried in the cemetery (See C.W.G.C. Cemetery History).