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.
The PCC is not under any obligation to reserve a section of the churchyard for military graves, but it chooses to do in support of the Royal Air Force College and the many service families living locally. The eastern-most section of the churchyard contains only military graves, whilst the Northwest quadrant (containing the oldest military graves) and a section of the churchyard to the east of the chancel contain a mixture of military and civilian graves.
There are six categories of military grave:
Pre-World War I Graves. The burial of servicemen who died before the First World War usually was a function of the ship or regiment to which they belonged, and was often a relatively hurried and casual affair. No formal assistance was offered by the then Admiralty or War Office, and today only a limited number of such graves are maintained at MOD’s expense. Most headstones from this period are allowed to decay naturally unless more proactive maintenance has been agreed at specific sites. Although the airship unit HMS Daedalus was formed at Cranwell before the First World War and there were airship accidents, there are no known burials from this time in the churchyard.
World War Graves. 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 3rd September 1939 to 31st December 1947. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was set up and funded to provide permanent burials for those who lost their lives in both World Wars and to ensure the maintenance of these graves in perpetuity. However, some graves are privately owned. 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 in the Second World War.
The Inter-War Years. Between 1st September 1921 and 2nd September 1939, dependent on the Service, some casualties were provided with an official headstone and, in some instances, they received a Service (as distinct from a private) funeral.
Post-World War II Service Graves. Since 1st January 1948, it has been MOD’s policy that the next-of-kin (NOK) of Service personnel who have died in the Armed Forces are offered the opportunity of a Service funeral and a military pattern memorial. Since 1967 the NOK of those who died whilst serving overseas (1963 from NW Europe) were given the option of having the remains interred locally or repatriated to the UK for burial. Before that Service personnel were buried locally or repatriated at private expense for a private funeral.
Post-World War II Private Graves. Some deaths in service result in “private” graves as opposed to “service” graves. These graves are not normally maintained by MOD. For example:
· When a service person receives a family funded or other privately funded funeral.
· Service personnel whose graves are marked with a privately purchased headstone.
· When a service pattern headstone originally provided by MOD has been altered by, for example, the addition of an additional inscription at private expense.
· When the deceased service person’s remains have been repatriated from an overseas location at private expense.
Veterans’ Graves. 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 usual military standard. The guidelines to which the deceased’s family must agree are attached to this section of the policy document.
Maintenance of the Military Graves
The maintenance arrangements for the military graves are as follows:
· World War Graves. Full maintenance, including replacement headstones when necessary, is provided by CWGC unless the headstone was privately funded.
· Inter-War Years. Where there was a Service Funeral the grave is maintained at public expense on a neat and tidy basis, but headstones are allowed to age naturally, and they are not replaced. In April 2021 MOD agreed by E-mail 12 April 2021 10:15 that all the inter-war years graves at Cranwell to the west and above the main path would be maintained at MOD’s expense whether or not the burial was the result of a full Service Funeral. This policy is unique to Cranwell.
· Post-World War II Service Graves. The maintenance of Post-World War II graves is fully funded by MOD using CWGC as its contractor.
· Post-World War II Private Graves and Veterans’ Graves. Privately funded service graves are normally not maintained by MOD. However, any such graves in the eastern military area and to the west and above the main path in Cranwell churchyard are maintained on a neat and tidy basis by MOD. Replacement of headstones remains the responsibility of the family or other person who paid for the erection of the privately funded stone. This policy is unique to Cranwell and full details are given in MOD letter reference TO2020/02314 dated 20 April 2020. Privately funded service graves in other parts of the churchyard remain the responsibility of the original funding party.