4 London War Graves And Memorials To Make You Stop And Think

By Londonist Last edited 14 months ago

Looks like this article is a bit old. Be aware that information may have changed since it was published.

4 London War Graves And Memorials To Make You Stop And Think

2018 marked 100 years since the first world war (mostly) came to an end. London is scattered with poignant war graves and memorials, telling the stories of those who fell in the world wars. 

Fiona Smith, from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, picks out four that will make you stop and think.

1. A Zeppelin shot down in flames, Brompton Cemetery

An aerial view of a British aircraft attacking a Zeppelin by Gordon Crosby 1919 IWM

How often do you catch sight of a Zeppelin in London? Flight Sub-Lieutenant Reginald Alexander John Warneford was one of the country's first fighter pilots, and served with the Royal Naval Air Service (what later became the Royal Air Force along with the Royal Flying Corps). Warneford's dramatic Brompton Cemetery memorial features an engraving of his most daring deed — chasing and shooting down a Zeppelin. For his endeavours he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the first naval aviator so honoured. Tragically, he died of his wounds following a flying accident 10 days later, on 17 June 1915.

An aerial view of a British aircraft attacking a Zeppelin by Gordon Crosby 1919 

Another poignant casualty of war was 
Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Thomas Falkiner Sandys. Sandys had been wounded five times over the course of the first world war, and survived the Battle of the Somme. He raised concerns in the lead up to the battle, and in the ensuing fight lost many of his men. While convalescing, consumed by guilt, and bereft, he shot himself with his service revolver. Sandys is remembered by us, also at Brompton Cemetery, in the same plot as Warneford.

The grave of Lt Colonel Edwin Thomas Falkiner Sandys. 


Location of Warneford's and Sandys' graves 

© Royal Parks

2. Remembering the Lusitania, Tower Hill Memorial

Tower Hill Memorial. Image: Brian Harris

The cruel sea swallowed up countless servicemen and women in both world wars. The Tower Hill Memorial commemorates over 36,000 lost at sea, from the Merchant Navy, Fishing Fleets and Pilots & Lighthouse Services. It was designed by one of the Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s principal architects, Sir Edwin Lutyens: the designer of the Cenotaph. The sculptures were created by Sir William Reid Dick. The later edition of the memorial for the second world war was designed by Sir Edward Maufe. The memorial is part of the Commission’s commitment to remember everyone within the Commonwealth Forces who fell in both world wars, whether we have buried them, or list them as missing. 

When the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium, was unveiled by Lord Plumer in 1927, of those named lost he said, "He is not missing. He is here". The same can be said at this evocative memorial, amongst the hustle and bustle of Tower Hamlets. 

RMS Lusitania under fire. Image: Shutterstock

The sinking of RMS Lusitania is remembered for catapulting the United States of America into the first world war. While rightly focussing on the heavy civilian loses, what is sometimes forgotten is the merchant seaman who crewed the ships at great risk. RMS Lusitania departed New York on 1 May 1915. Six days later, she was torpedoed barely 100 miles from the Irish Coast, and sunk within 18 minutes, with almost 2,100 lives lost. At Tower Hill Memorial, we remember those merchant seaman lost at sea. Over 350 of them are to be found here, under the name Lusitania. 

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey

The Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey

Located within Westminster Abbey, this iconic grave is now as much a part of the public consciousness as remembrance itself. We truly don’t know who the Unknown Warrior is. Great effort was taken to ensure the body could be any fallen soldier: the identity remains a mystery and shall forevermore. What this means for us however, is that this truly represents all the unknown dead lost in the first world war. It was the intervention of Reverend David Railton in 1920, who wanted the unknown dead to be remembered in the greatest church of the Empire. You will find many of our graves across the world marked with words chosen by Rudyard Kipling: "A soldier of the Great War, known unto God". Kipling's own son, John, was lost in the first world war, and his death in part moved Kipling to work with the then Imperial War Graves Commission. His other great literary contribution to remembrance is the choice of phrase, "Their name liveth for evermore". 

As you are visiting a CWGC grave, you should be able to access the Abbey to visit this specific grave, free of charge. Just ask the marshal at the gate. The Abbey also houses our Civilian Rolls of Honour, where 67,000 people are commemorated. Sir Fabian Ware, who founded the IWGC over 100 years ago in 1917, was concerned as the second world war raged on, that civilian deaths were being forgotten. 

4. Alice Daly, at St Pancras & Islington Cemetery

St Pancras & Islington Cemetery chapel

St Pancras & Islington Cemetery contains over 1,000 war graves. When you visit our cemeteries, you may find some of our names are found on a screen wall. In the chaos of war, sometimes casualties could not be buried individually, and are named in this way. One such person is Alice Daly of the Women's Royal Air Force, who died 13 February 1919. 

A Women's Royal Air Force existed from 1918, and by 1943, over 180,000 women were enrolled.

Outside of London, you could visit the UK's largest military cemetery at Brookwood in Surrey. It's just a short train ride out of Waterloo, and easily reached on foot. Join one of our free guided tours on Sundays up until Christmas, at 11am and 2pm. 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) commemorates the 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars. It also holds and updates an extensive and accessible records archive. The Commission operates in more than 23,000 locations in more than 150 countries and territories. 

To find out more, visit the website, follow on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. 

Many thanks to Max Dutton for his help and suggestions in writing this @MaxDutton2

Last Updated 08 March 2021