The term "war grave" does not only apply to graves: ships sunk during wartime are often considered to be war graves, as are military aircraft that crash into water; this is particularly true if crewmen perished inside the vehicle. Classification of a war grave is not limited to the occupier's death in combat but includes military personnel who die while in active service: for example, during the Crimean War, more military personnel died of disease than as a result of enemy action.
A common difference between cemeteries of war graves and those of civilian peacetime graves is the uniformity of those interred. They generally died during a relatively short period, in a small geographic area and consist of service members from the few military units involved.
In the Commonwealth of Nations, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible for the commemoration of 1.7 million deceased Commonwealth military service members at over 23,000 separate burial sites in 153 countries. It operates through the financial support of six member states (United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa).
In Spain, war graves are protected by the Law 60/1962.
In the United Kingdom, 67 ship wrecks and all underwater military aircraft are "protected places" under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 which imposes restrictions on their exploration and marine salvage.
In popular culture
Rupert Brooke's 1914 poem, The Soldier - "If I should die, think only this of me: / That there's some corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England", is a patriotic poem about the possibility of dying abroad during a war. Brooke is himself buried in a war grave on Skyros in the Aegean Sea, having died while en route to fight in the Gallipoli Campaign.
The War Graves Photographic Project, founded in 2008, aims to create an archive of names and photographs of all military graves and memorials from 1914 to the present day from any nationality, although focus on Commonwealth soldiers.
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission Annual Report 2013, p. 2.
- Major and Mrs Holt's battlefield guide to the Ypres Salient ISBN 0-85052-551-9
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- SI 2009/3380 The Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 Order no 2009/3380