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.

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.

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.

“I spent most of Sunday morning lying on the floor of my room with the mattress propped against the window in case of flying glass. Throughout the morning there were repeated visits to the hotel from the rebel soldiers who shot at and robbed guests.”

This was the account of David Richardson, then a Commission horticulture manager, on a working visit to Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1997. Part way through his trip to oversee replanting and renovations at our cemeteries, civil war broke out.

He and other foreign visitors were holed up in their hotel for days until UN planes were able to evacuate them.

Due to the sheer global scale of our work, world events occasionally impact us. Thankfully staff have never had as close a call as this since. The priority is always to ensure people’s safety. Stones and planting can be replaced. The long-term nature of our work allows us to bide our time when things become unsafe.

By the noughties a gradual return to Sierra Leone was possible.

Despite the forced absence, the main site in Freetown, King Tom Cemetery, was still in relatively good condition. Until a new threat emerged from the weather.

The old sea wall at King Tom Cemetery seen to be collapsing after flash flooding.

Record rainfall in 2016 saw a deluge of water hit the cemetery. The sea defences were destroyed and the site was at risk of collapsing into the ocean.

Against a backdrop of flooding and an outbreak of Ebola we had to balance complex needs.

One option, only considered in extreme circumstances, would have been to exhume the war dead away from the coast to higher ground.

But it would have been near impossible to get approval to dig up human remains during an epidemic, regardless of when they had died. Almost a quarter of the war dead buried in King Tom were killed by Spanish flu during the First World War. No one was going to question people’s nerves in the face of this new contagious disease – we had our own reminder of their costs.

“The mayor also told us the cemetery had become part of Freetown’s heritage. So we respected local wishes and stuck to an engineering solution,” said area director Rich Hills.

It took time, but an answer to the problem was found, as well as an excellent local partner to completely rebuild a brand new sea wall.

“It was one of the Commission’s most complicated engineering projects and we couldn’t have done it without local support. Making such a huge achievement in a country that we’d been evacuated from only a few decades earlier made it all the more poignant.”

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.