Secluded in a quiet woodland, next to an abandoned Soviet era military base, 15 miles south of Berlin, lie the graves of 206 Indian servicemen of the First World War. Dotted between each headstone is a small burst of colour from the spread of flowers that are synonymous with our work.

Visitors would be forgiven for thinking Zehrensdorf Indian Cemetery had always been this way.

But when the Iron Curtain lifted in the 1990s the Commission was faced with a disaster zone. A World War and a Cold War had destroyed the cemetery. Not one headstone was left standing.

Almost nothing remained of the peaceful space that had been created to remember these men.

These Indian servicemen died while prisoners of war, captured by the Germans on the Western Front.

They were held at two camps at Zossen-Zehrensdorf which included large numbers of Allied PoWs of African and Asian descent. They were ‘show camps’ with better conditions than others and included the German Empire’s first mosque built specially for the Muslim prisoners. Many prisoners were then the focus of studies by curious anthropologists, keen to research the international mix of captives.

After the Fall of the Berlin Wall, CWGC returned to Zehrensdorf to find it completely destroyed.

After the war the Commission formalised the Indian cemetery at Zehrensdorf which formed part of a larger cemetery containing allied war dead of the First World War.

Old visitor books from the cemetery in the 1930s show the local fascination with these men from far off lands continued between the wars, though comments were increasingly accompanied by Nazi sentiments.

By the time the Second World War had drawn to a close the Commission hoped it might be possible to return. But a new Cold War between East and West soon put an end to those hopes. We were only able to return long enough to find out that it was already damaged.

Held firmly behind the Iron Curtain staff were unable to gain proper access.

When they eventually returned after the Fall of the Berlin Wall they found the site had been all but wiped off the face of the Earth. But, underneath the overgrowth and debris, in spite of tanks using the area for training exercises, the beams that once held headstones were somehow intact.

The old damaged Stone of Remembrance was donated to a nearby museum.

One by one, once the area had been cleared of explosives, we were able to assure ourselves that no human remains had been affected. Each grave could still be marked in its original position. New headstones were produced, and great efforts were taken to ensure everything was replaced exactly.

The final, heavy, piece of the puzzle was installing a brand new Stone of Remembrance – all seven tonnes of Portland stone. The only evidence that remains of the damage is the original Stone of Remembrance, preserved at a nearby museum.

For more than half a century two crouching stone tigers stood, ready to pounce, at the mouth of the Suez Canal.

Their wide-open mouths and bared teeth called on the thousands who passed by to look up and recall the memory of more than 3,000 Indians who gave their lives in Egypt and Palestine during the First World War, and have no known grave.

However, if you stood there today, you would never know. In the 1960s the sculpted tigers, along with the rest of the Port Tewfik Memorial, were destroyed beyond repair. Many of the bronze panels were stolen. Collateral damage in the Arab-Israeli War.

The original Port Tewfik Memorial overlooked the busy entrance to the Suez Canal.

It’s now one of a handful of CWGC sites that, in its original form, exists now only in photographs.

There had been nods to the culture of those remembered there. The words chosen by CWGC’s first Literary Advisor, Rudyard Kipling, were carefully cast in bronze panels in English, Hindi, Urdu and Gurmukhi.

However, no names appeared on the memorial when it was unveiled in 1926, only the names of their units or regiments.

The Commission had not been satisfied with the records of the missing provided by the army and colonial authorities and so no names were included. These were eventually obtained and included in the register.

As well as being a memorial to the missing Port Tewfik stood as a memorial to the Indian Army which served in Egypt and Palestine during the War. It’s two crouching tigers, embodying the Indian Army, stood guard over the entrance to the Suez Canal, the vital artery of Empire.

Imperial fortunes, however, would slowly wane. As Britain withdrew from lands it had once ruled, the commanding locations that had been chosen for memorials like this were suddenly harder to access.

Following the memorial’s destruction in the 1960s, the Commission strove to restore it but by the 1970s, it became clear that a replacement memorial could not be built in the same location. On top of the area’s instability, a towering power mast had been hastily erected within metres of the ruins.

Only one small piece of the crouching tigers can be seen intact.

After long debate, it was decided to build a new memorial within the grounds of Heliopolis War Cemetery, in a Cairo suburb, 75 miles east. The Commission took the opportunity to redress the historical inequality and so physically included the names on the new memorial, so now all 3,727 men are commemorated there.

And now new tigers guard their memory. The symbolic spirit of the Indian Army was replicated in the new design with three bronze tigers placed at each of the cemetery’s entrances.

The tigers, still crouching; the names, no longer hidden.

We now know more about this site.
Read our report into historical acts of non-commemoration.

War memorials come in many shapes and sizes. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is known around the world for creating a blueprint for how memorials, and cemeteries, should look.

But anyone familiar with our work will know that if we created a rule, it was probably broken at some point too.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the hot, busy streets of Giza. It’s the location of quite possibly the most unusual and least known of all our memorials; one that broke the convention of ‘functional memorials’.

That’s because it is, in fact, a laboratory.

Building an annexe to an Egyptian eye hospital at the same time as constructing grand monumental memorials elsewhere in the world sounds strange, but it was no accident.

During the First World War around 125,000 Egyptian men supported British Empire Forces as part of the Egyptian Labour Corps (ELC) and the Camel Transport Corps (CTC).

Their work was varied. Some were stretcher bearers, others built vital supply and transport infrastructure that kept the war effort on the move.

However, when those serving with the ELC or CTC died, their units often buried them in unmarked graves or kept sporadic records, if at all. It’s estimated around 10,000 to 50,000 died during the First World War but an accurate number is impossible to know without proper records.

Bronze reliefs in English and Arabic commemorate those who died.

When the Commission’s work to commemorate all who served under the banner of British Empire forces began it was faced with the impossible task of remembering an unknown quantity of anonymous men from Egypt.

A long debate took place amongst the Commission’s representatives in Egypt and Egyptian authorities, which  saw many an idea bounce back and forth. They liked the idea of a memorial mosque, but there were enough already in the main cities.

They liked the idea of memorial with a function.

In the end, after drawn out discussions, it was agreed that a memorial laboratory building, to sit within the grounds of a new ophthalmic hospital, then under construction, would be the most fitting solution.

Few would suspect that this laboratory, still in use today, is in fact a war memorial.

A fully functional building that could be of benefit to the Egyptians now and in the future. And that it does to this day. Nearly a century later the Giza Memorial is still in operation as a key part of the hospital’s training facilities.

And on the outside walls stand tall bronze plaques that bear the likeness of some of the anonymous but not unremembered men whose lives, and deaths, continue to be commemorated by this most curious of war memorials.

Building a war cemetery is a tough task at the best of times. It needs planning, attention to detail, supplies, people and more than a little elbow grease.

Doing that on a remote Indonesian island in tropical conditions, with little to no access to materials, labour or even food, in the middle of repeated uprisings, is a challenge few could overcome.

But overcome they did.

This was the making of Ambon War Cemetery. Starting in 1947 repeated Commission teams were forced to withdraw as local tensions between independence factions and government forces made it unsafe.

Major Keith Proctor (back, right) during a visit by Prince Philip (centre) to Ambon War Cemetery

An early member of staff, Captain Maurice Muir was evacuated ill and malnourished after attempting to endure the siege-like conditions in the 1950s.

Later teams ran into similar problems. But their efforts to complete a fitting tribute continued; the remote island still held the bodies of thousands of Australians and Brits, many of whom had been subjected to horrendous treatment as prisoners of war.

By the 1960s, the Commission’s man on the ground was Major Keith Proctor. During the Second World War he was involved in fighting on the island. On a photograph of him and Prince Philip on a visit to the cemetery he noted to his family how returning to the area he once fought at ‘brought back a load of memories’.

After two decades of attempts, he was finally able to oversee the cemetery’s completion.

Food and supplies still remained scarce throughout, with one notable exception. On a trip to exhume bodies from the jungle into the cemetery, Major Proctor and his team were honoured with a feast by a local tribe.

At the centre of everyone’s attention he was presented with the raw eyes of the boar they were to eat.

“Much to his delight the pig’s eyes stayed down and he was able to hold up Australia’s and CWGC’s honour,” according to his daughter, Carole.

However, these lighter memories were far outweighed by the difficulties the Commission faced in creating a permanent place of remembrance for these men.

In the 2000s Ambon once again saw upheaval. In riots, caused in part by religious divide, the cemetery’s Cross of Sacrifice was destroyed. The Commission decided not to replace it, in order to avoid antagonising a delicate local situation.

By 2017, the 50th anniversary of the mammoth effort to build this now beautiful tropical war cemetery, stability had once again returned. Veterans, dignitaries and the Commission’s local gardeners were joined by a special guest.

Half a century after her dad’s success – which earned him an MBE – Major Proctor’s daughter was able to do what he and all those who came before him had worked so hard for.

Find a quiet corner of a well-tended cemetery, and let her thoughts drift off, in remembrance.

Nowhere else in the UK is the challenge of access to war graves more obvious than in the Scottish Highlands and islands.

CWGC’s Scotland team often combine their commute with ferries and planes as they seek out isolated graveyards, far from the mainland. A bicycle can be an essential piece of kit when arriving on an island without cars to inspect remote headstones.

The dead they look after include islanders who served and returned, only to die of injury or illness. Many are pilots or seamen who died in accidents or whose bodies were washed ashore, far from home.

Elsewhere in Scotland, remote islands like St Finan’s Isle provide an extra challenge to our regular maintenance cycles.

Maintenance trips are constantly rescheduled around narrow weather windows when it’s unsafe to land on small remote islands, like Fair Isle, where just a handful of war graves lie.

The Commission’s traditional Portland stone will hardly be found here. Granite is one of the few substances that stands a chance of surviving the climate.

The challenge isn’t new – archive documents from 1945 show one former employee’s concerns that the vast spread was too much to handle.

His preferred solution: an island-hopping gardener, equipped with a motorbike and a lawnmower in a sidecar.

The difficulties in Scotland come high up in the mountains too.

Three miles from the nearest road and more than two thousand feet above the nearest village, lies the isolated grave of six airmen.

They are buried on a rocky plateau near the summit of Ben More Assynt, 20 miles north-east of Ullapool.

All of them died in April 1941 after their plane crashed. When their bodies were later found by a local shepherd, he buried them together using parts of their destroyed plane for a make-shift cross.

By 1944 the Commission had arranged for a temporary memorial cairn to be erected above the graves. It was unthinkable at the time to install anything more permanent in such a place.

To give families somewhere to mourn, a special memorial was placed by the Commission in the nearest village of Inchnadamph. A slowly growing pile of stones, added to by the odd passing walker, was all that remained up on the high mountain slopes.

The original Imperial War Graves Commission grave marker seen at the site of the crash.

And that would have been where the story ended.

Until in 2010, when a local mountain guide approached us. He had heard concerns the exact location of the crash site could get lost to time.

And so, with the help of the MOD, a 600kg special CWGC granite marker was lowered into place by helicopter – possibly the most remote war grave in all of the UK.