ACTOR, adventurer and former paratrooper Brian Blessed officially opened an exhibition marking the centenary of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).
He was at Brookwood Military Cemetery, the largest of the commission’s sites in the UK, on Saturday to launch a display which explores the organisation’s remarkable story.
Also at the ceremony was the new Mayor of Woking, Cllr Graham Cundy, carrying out his first assignment in the post.
In declaring the exhibition open, Windlesham resident Mr Blessed said: “I’m an avid supporter of veteran charities, so this is something close to my heart. Every man and woman who fought in both world wars across the globe deserves to be remembered for the sacrifices they made.
“The CWGC has done an incredible job over the last 100 years and long may it continue.”
Mr Blessed, who did his national service in the Parachute Regiment and served in Malaya during the guerrilla insurgency there, added: “I would urge everyone who can to visit the exhibition and also their local war graves. Find out the stories behind the headstones and commemorate those who ‘gave their tomorrow, for our today’.”
The free exhibition, entitled For Then, For Now, For Ever, is in the Grade I listed Canada Building at Brookwood Military Cemetery, whose entrance is in Dawney Hill, Pirbright.
It contains many historically important items never before seen in public and explains the CWGC’s founding principles to honour each serviceman or woman equally – regardless of rank, religion, race or gender – a revolutionary concept for the time.
Exhibits include an original First World War grave marker and a petition from the 1920s addressed to then CWGC president, the Prince of Wales. The petition has more than 8,000 signatures – predominantly from mothers who lost sons in the First World War – asking the commission to reconsider the use of a uniform marker in favour of a cross.
In an interactive first, visitors can take a card corresponding to one of the 5,000 casualties buried in the cemetery and visit the relevant grave or memorial for a personal act of remembrance.
The display is open to the public seven days a week from 10am to 4pm until November 19. It will be supported by a series of talks and events.
CWGC director general Victoria Wallace said at the opening ceremony: “I hope people will come to explore this fascinating part of history, and help the CWGC celebrate the astonishing and enduring achievement which is now moving into its second century.
“It’s a great opportunity to visit Brookwood Military Cemetery, a hidden treasure where so many servicemen and women from all nations are commemorated.”