Pounding heat and flash floods – the weather in Myanmar poses the Commonwealth War Graves Commission its fair share of difficulties.

Our team here is responsible for maintaining nearly 12,000 graves, but the graves look a little different to those familiar with our work in Europe. Each one is marked by a bronze plaque set into the ground on a pedestal of stone.

These plaques weather better than Portland headstones in the intense heat and the rain of South East Asia.

In Yangon – known to the British during the Second World War as Rangoon – we face opposing problems from the weather.

Rangoon War Cemetery, in the busy city centre, gets regularly submerged by flash floods. Our gardeners have to sweep away debris on a daily basis in the rainy season.

Yet just one hour away on the outskirts, at Taukkyan War Cemetery, we face a constant battle against parched ground in the brutal hot and dry weather.

Taukkyan is a vast cemetery with almost 6,500 graves. They are carefully laid out in rows around the distinctive shape of the Rangoon Memorial, which lists almost 27,000 missing war dead.

The memorial is beginning to show signs of its age and we are preparing to restore it.

In its shadow, lies a more recent row of bronze plaques. They sit in a special plot, naming the 16 men aboard Dakota KN584.

The plane crashed in September 1945 killing all aboard. Only recently was it found they had been buried deep in the jungle, making recovery impractical. Instead, their relatives now have somewhere accessible to pay their respects with a row of special memorials in our cemetery.

The last of our three sites in Myanmar is Thanbyuzayat. The cemetery sits a stone’s throw from the end of the infamous death railway.

This cross-country route was built by forced labour, including prisoners of war, during the Second World War, in often gruelling conditions. It has been said that a man died for every sleeper laid across the 415-kilometre (258 mi) route of the railway. Many of those who died lie at rest in CWGC’s care.

And as a reminder of what they went through, visitors to Thanbyuzayat will see a handmade wooden cross in the cemetery’s entrance, assembled out of those infamous railway sleepers by prisoners.

Cracked headstones and torn up turf, all courtesy of our least wanted guest in Singapore – wild boar.

The creatures prove a real problem for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The open land of Kranji War Cemetery, on the outskirts of the Asian city-state, is an appealing place for them.

For decades gardeners here have had to look out for boar and the damage they cause to the cemetery they care for. More than 4,000 Second World War dead are buried here. Another 25,000 are named on a series of memorials.

From high up on this vantage point you can look out and see where the Japanese Army came from in that fateful February of 1942, during the Battle of Singapore.

Christopher Leong, our head gardener at Kranji, is all too familiar with the challenges of preserving this reminder of all those lost lives.

His team take seriously any sighting of a wild boar, immediately evacuating the site.

Specialist fencing runs deep underground to prevent all but the most determined of invaders from getting through.

It’s not just animals that put pressure on this historic site. The weather plays its own part too, bringing trees down in the monsoon.

The Singapore Memorial sits on the highest point of the hillside cemetery now. The iconic design pays tribute to the air force, navy and army – the wings of a plane, the fin of a submarine, the rows of soldiers stood to attention.

Weathering has already taken its toll on the memorial. CWGC is restoring the structure, tearing off the old waterproof layer on its roof, and replacing it with more robust modern materials.

While the wild boar might be a dangerous visitor, the cemetery still draws in people wanting to pay their respects. Every year thousands turn out for the Remembrance Sunday service, just the kind of guests our founders had in mind, all those years ago.

The closest you can ever get to visiting Tbilisi British Cemetery is by knocking, politely, on the door of a Georgian family home, and being guided through to their back garden.

The cemetery itself no longer exists. All that remains is a marker in this garden, installed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 2000, to record where it is believed the cemetery once stood.

Shortly after the First World War this is where 31 men’s stories ended. They were far from home, here to occupy the country on behalf of the Allied Powers while the post-war map of the world was still being drafted.

The original grave markers have all been lost to time. Access to Georgia after 1919 was impossible for the Commission due to Communist rule.

While a small group of remaining British ex-pats helped tend to the cemetery into the 1930s, the Second World War and then the Cold War made it too challenging to sustain.

CWGC was stuck at an arm’s length until well after the fall of the Iron Curtain. By the time we returned we were faced with the sprawling suburbs of Tbilisi, where there had once been an isolated cemetery.

In the interim we had not forgotten those men and their names were engraved on the Haida Pasha Memorial in Istanbul.

Despite being 800 miles away from Tbilisi it was the nearest place where CWGC could guarantee long-term continued access. The shifting borders and political instability caused by the World Wars impacted our global task long after the conflicts ended.

While world events have left us with this odd legacy of making a pilgrimage to a family garden, it’s not just the Commission’s team who visit this home. Dignitaries and relatives return every Remembrance Sunday to pay their respects after knocking, politely of course, on this Georgian family’s garage door.

Before going to work, the Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s Lebanese gardeners always switch on the local radio. Though the dry summers and spring flash floods cause them enough problems, they’re not listening to check the weather – they’re making sure it’s safe to go to work.

It’s a necessary precaution. Beirut has found itself the centre of attention for dangerous reasons in the past. There’s still political instability in neighbouring countries. A refugee centre near to CWGC’s Beirut War Cemetery can at times be the focal point for tense stand offs that spill out into the street.

Gardeners are on strict instructions to stay home at the slightest sign of trouble.

Thankfully, most days in Beirut begin peacefully enough. An early start before the sun’s punishing summer heat is normal for head gardener Yousef.

Beirut War Cemetery’s grand date palms can only provide so much shade and the locally grown roses need constant attention to stay in bloom.

The cemetery here is split into two parts: The First World War section is dominated by the graves of men who died of Spanish flu during the military occupation in 1918-19.

On the other side of the road, the Second World War part pays testament to the cost of the brutal fighting to reclaim the city from Vichy French and subsequent occupation.

And the World Wars weren’t the last time shots were fired here. During the complex Lebanese Civil War, it’s said the cemetery was used as an artillery position.

Throughout the 70s and 80s the local gardeners did what they could despite repeated calls by the Commission not to put themselves at risk.

One close call saw the head gardener forced to take cover behind a wall for an hour while sheltering from a bombardment.

By the time the civil war ended the number of headstones damaged by missiles and shell fire nearly reached 1,000. Luckily the damage was only superficial. The graves remained undisturbed and by 1994 the cemeteries were completely restored by the Commission.

Today, it’s the weather that causes the most problems. Flash spring floods and long, hot summers mean tending to flowers is a constant war against the elements, making that weather forecast on the radio important to pay attention to as well.

For those unfamiliar with World War history, or African geography, you could be forgiven for not being able to point to Eritrea on a map.

It sits on the Horn of Africa, north of Somalia, and was once the scene of fierce fighting in the Second World War. Men from around the world – Britain, Undivided India, South Africa and Sudan – assembled in a narrow mountain pass here in 1941.

The Battle of Keren was key to the Allies’ fight against the Italian occupiers in Eritrea. Tens of thousands of men from both sides fought across a steep gorge and mountain pass for control of the roads towards the city, and ultimately the route to the capital Asmara.

Despite the hot, dry weather, dotted horticulture is still possible here.

On the outskirts of the city stands the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Keren War Cemetery. One of the first to be built after the Second World War, it is almost entirely unaltered since it was constructed.

It stands as a permanent reminder of more than 700 Commonwealth men who died here. The tough conditions make it a little more challenging for CWGC’s local team to maintain the dotted horticulture that can survive the arid climate.

Despite the challenges it remains a beautiful setting for the few visitors who can negotiate the visa process and stand here, in the peaceful shadow of the mountain ridges that so many men died fighting for control of.

Alongside rows of headstones is the Keren Cremation Memorial, a common feature where the Indian forces fought. Men who were cremated in accordance with their faith are remembered here by name.

Among them is Richhpal Ram VC who was posthumously awarded the highest military honour for his bravery during the battle.

The stark difference between the Asmara (pictured) and Keren is seen in the different planting schemes.

“Just two hours away from Keren you find our other war cemetery in Eritrea,” said Rich Hills, CWGC’s regional director.

“In the country’s capital Asmara the environment is distinctly different. While Keren is arid and dry, in Asmara the air appears to have more moisture, the surrounding terrain is very wooded and green and there’s a large cactus forest behind the cemetery.”

Although water must always be managed carefully in Asmara, the difference in microclimate is very noticeable and our horticulture faces less of an uphill battle.

While the work of our dedicated team in Eritrea is varied and far from common knowledge, it’s also far from finished.

We constantly look forward to ways in which we can increase the standards of maintenance at these remarkable sites.

A few hours after the storm passed Kengo and his team set to work. The strong winds had ripped up trees and impaled them in the cemetery’s neat lawn. Elsewhere in Japan the outcome was even worse.

Yokohama, a neighbouring city of Tokyo, like much of the region, suffered from the effects of the deadly Typhoon Hagibis in October 2019.

As well as the serious loss of life, power and property, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s only war cemetery in Japan fell victim too.

Thankfully all staff and their families were unharmed. Only hours before it struck, Kengo Kobayashi, CWGC’s Japan country manager, was in the cemetery, giving a video tour and discussing which trees might be at risk.

Kengo Kobayashi, CWGC’s Japan country manager, leads a team of five gardeners at Yokohama

The next day his team set to work quickly clearing up the aftermath.

In calmer times this space boasts an abundance of life; flowers and trees that mix native Asian species with more regional varieties that reflect the Commonwealth war dead buried below.

Created after the Second World War, Yokohama contains the remains and memorials for more than 2,000 war dead.

Most were Prisoners of War who died in captivity in grueling conditions. Their lives and deaths are now preserved in this parkland setting amid the largest urban area on the planet.

Nearby, hundreds of thousands of rugby fans have poured through the doors of the Yokohama International Stadium during the Rugby World Cup; many Brits, Australians and New Zealanders among them.

Yokohama is divided into five sections for the Commonwealth and post-war, pictured here Australia.

While their thoughts will have been on tries and tackles, our Japanese staff were watering and weeding the Commonwealth graves of those fans’ forebears – men who only a few generations ago would have been enemies.

And among those graves there is buried a true friend. In the non-war plot lies former Commission gardener, Len Harrop MBE. Ex-soldier and guardian of this cemetery from 1952 to 1986.

From the harrowing work of recovering bodies to cultivating plants, his life spanned the battlefields of Normandy to Yokohama War Cemetery. And just as he did for more than three decades, when the storm winds passed, the latest generation of CWGC staff returned to make sure that everyone buried there could continue to rest in peace.

When it comes to Remembrance Day, and you bow your head in silence, you could be forgiven for not knowing about the village chief who helps make our work possible.

But in Nigeria, it’s just another part of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s work.

Across the vast West African nation are a series of isolated headstones, mostly men who died of illness while stationed here in the First World War.

It’s customary to meet with the Baro village chief, here joined by Simon (L) and Lolu (R) of CWGC.

Throughout the world we rely on making strong relationships with those whose land our war graves lie in.

In England, that often means vicars. In Canada, that can be farmers out in the prairie.

In West Africa, that means building a relationship with village chiefs, like here in Baro Village with Alhaji Mohammed.

Lolu Enabolu, CWGC’s Nigerian supervisor, helps us to build and maintain these vital connections on the ground. On his last visit to Baro with regional manager Simon Fletcher, the pair sat down for the customary tea and conversation with Alhaji, before being led to the war graves. Small formalities like this go a long way to gaining local trust.

In these remote locations, you can never underestimate the importance of local trust.

Another lone burial, that of Captain Haworth Massy, in Udi village, bears a powerful reminder of how World War history unites the world.

Captain Massy, whose grave is seen below with Lolu on his latest inspection, may appear to be buried in isolation in this quiet spot, a day’s drive south of the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

Buried in Udi village is Cpt Massy. His brother, Pte Massy, is remembered on the Menin Gate.

But you can draw a line, 3,000 miles long, from this place to one of CWGC’s most visited locations – the Menin Gate, upon which is engraved his brother’s name.

The two signed up for the same war. Though they died in very different ways, and at opposite ends of the world, the memory of their family’s loss is preserved forever by our global task.

A job that we can only do by building strong local connections everywhere we go, whether it’s the vicar, the farmer, or the village chief – something worth trying to remember next 11 November.

Upon arrival at Kariokor cemetery, our staff know there is still work to be done before they even open the gates. They can hear the tell-tale sound of a hammer and nail.

This isn’t their colleagues at work, making repairs. The sound they’re hearing is someone nailing out a taut animal hide to dry, just metres away from a war grave.

It’s one of a few businesses which have set up shop, without permission, in the cemetery grounds in the Nairobi suburb named after the Carrier Corps of the First World War, many of whom were recruited from this neighbourhood.

A glimpse of Nairobi (Kariokor) Cemetery from CWGC’s archive.

Today, it’s where 59 African Second World War casualties are buried. Encroachment isn’t unique to Kenya. Around the world, as cities grow, many of the 23,000 locations at which we operate face challenges created by man-made expansion.

At Kariokor, CWGC has been working carefully with local authorities to find the best long-term solution. One plan is to renovate the space into a memorial park, with more information to help people understand the history of the Africans buried there.

A key partner in helping to spread that story is the Museums of Kenya. Their interest in Nairobi (Kariokor) Cemetery saw them bestow it with their highest level of historical importance and ‘gazette’ the whole site as a heritage asset, a part of Kenya’s history as well as that of the Second World War.

People trying to find space to set up their businesses aren’t the only uninvited visitors causing a problem for the Commission’s Kenya team.

Another unwanted guest in nearby Nairobi War Cemetery is something most European gardeners have probably never thought of protecting themselves against – monkeys.

“They come in and eat the plants,” said Daniel Achini, our senior technical supervisor out in Nairobi.

“The problem is that there is less food for them in the forest these days, so they come to the city looking for food. Our cemeteries are full of plants, lined up ready and waiting.”

The plants that survive the monkey invasions need constant care in order to survive the region’s occasional droughts. Guarding against unwanted visitors and reacting to changing weather patterns is all just a part of what it takes to make sure those who died on this soil aren’t forgotten.

“We know there’s still plenty of work to do,” said Daniel, “but, we’re on it.”