THE CHURCHYARD AND THE WAR GRAVES
Burials have been carried out in the churchyard surrounding the ancient parish church of Saint Andrew, Cranwell for at least a thousand years. Until the twentieth century the capacity of the churchyard met without difficulty the historic needs of the parish, but in the Twentieth Century the advent of a military unit in the parish precipitated a population explosion. In 1915 the Admiralty selected six sites in the East of England, of which Cranwell was one, to become airship bases. The initial Admiralty base at Cranwell, HMS Daedalus, became in turn a Royal Flying Corps Station, an RAF station and eventually the Royal Air Force College as we know it today.
The Royal Air Force College is one of the RAF's largest units and occupies two thirds of the parish. It actually straddles three parishes but the bulk of the College is in Cranwell. Although the RAF College has three churches: St Michael's, St Peter's and St Andrew's (not to be confused with the Cranwell Parish Church of St Andrew's) none of these churches has a burial ground and deaths at the College usually result in a burial in the parish churchyard. Learning to fly has always been hazardous and it is possible to trace from the military graves the development of aviation from airships to the aircraft of today. There are about 200 military graves in the churchyard.
There are three categories of military grave:
War Graves. War graves are the graves of military personnel who have died during a period of Active Service. The defined dates of Active Service for the First World War are 4th August 1914 to 31st August 1921, and for the Second World War are 2nd September 1939 to 31st December 1947. Most of the War Graves in Cranwell Churchyard relate to the deaths of very young Servicemen who died whilst trying to learn to fly in preparation for combat. The earliest graves resulted from airship accidents. Maintenance of war graves is the responsibility of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The ogival shape of the headstone usually identifies war graves although large standing granite crosses surmount many of the earliest war graves. There are 72 war graves acknowledged by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Service Graves. Military personnel who died outside the defined periods applying to the War Graves Commission are buried in service graves. It seems strange that even deaths resulting from the current conflicts in Iraq and Afganistan are not categorised as War Graves...but that is the system. The headstone has a plain rounded top flared at the shoulders. The maintenance of these graves is the responsibility of the nearest military unit. There are 66 in this category.
Retired Service Personnel. Some retired service personnel are buried in the area set aside for military graves. These burials are authorised on condition that the headstones, ground fixing, and inscriptions conform to the agreed military standard. There are some 40 graves of retired servicemen in the military section of the churchyard but there are others in amonst the graves of villagers.