Sir Tim Hitchens publishes Commonwealth War Graves report into inequality in death

Published on
Thursday 22 April 2021
Race & Ethics

Sir Tim Hitchens, President of Wolfson College and Commonwealth War Graves Commissioner, this morning published the report of a Special Committee he chaired to Review Historical Inequalities in Commemoration.

When the Imperial War Graves Commission was set up in 1917 it promised all the war dead of the British Empire, whatever their nationality, rank or religion, equality of treatment in death. In Europe and other battlefronts this meant a name carved on an individual gravestone or memorial. At places like Neuve Chapelle in France, for example, you can see the individual gravestones of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh soldiers erected in exactly the same way as the young British or Canadians who died in the battle there.  

But in the 1920s, in Africa and the Middle East, the Special Committee found many examples where individual dead soldiers from Africa or India had not been treated equally, or not been commemorated at all, apparently on the basis of their rank or religion. The report sets out its findings, and makes recommendations to right the wrongs of the past.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission itself has now accepted the recommendations in full, and apologised.

This report gains added relevance in the context of the Rhodes Must Fall and Black Lives Matter campaigns over the last few years, and given the verdict in the trial of George Floyd. Wolfson College itself is committed to reflecting on its own early days, and we have published here a preliminary study into the origins of the College, ethics and colonialism.

You can read through the report in full here and the Commission's response here.