My connection to Commonwealth War Graves: Sally’s story

Sally McGlone is one of our highly dedicated Commonwealth War Graves staff. Discover her story and connection to us today.

Over to you, Sally!

Sally McGlone & Commonwealth War Graves

Early Recollections of Commonwealth War Graves

A womean in black coat and dark hat holds up a picture of a ATS casualty. The woman is wearing a poppy and has several RAF medals pinned to her breast.Image: Sally McGlone at a RBL Poppy Event (photo courtesy of Sally McGlone)

My very first recollection of Commonwealth War Graves and the role undertaken by the organisation was of visiting Bayeux War Cemetery in 1977. 

My parents had taken me and my younger brother to Arromanches to see the remnants of the Mulberry Harbour. We walked along most of the Normandy landing beaches and my parents explained to me what had been undertaken, just over 30 years before our visit. 

The stories stuck with me, I was convinced I would find clothing, boots, and helmets in the sand. Unlike many girls, I wanted to find aircraft, landing craft, and vehicles; a strange thought to stick in the mind of a toddler, but stick with it I did and it sent me on a life-shaping journey that is echoed in my life today.

I grew up with stories and recollections from all my relatives who served in the First and Second World Wars, although by the late 1970s, most of the family links to lived experiences of the First World War, were dwindling as the older relatives passed.

I did hold on to many personal histories and in later life have been able to furnish the family tree and photograph albums with anecdotal stories, service information and connections to the military, including records, newspaper reports, Red Cross Prisoner of War records, all adding to a rich tapestry of historical information.

Family History & Connections to Commonwealth War Graves

My Grandmother served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) Royal Signals from 1939 until 1944, she had lost an uncle called George in the First World War, her brother, was also called George (after his uncle) both served in the Armed Forces during the Second World War.

However, there was a gap in the family history and in the family tree, something which was not discussed, certainly not until my relative’s twilight years, the gap consisted of 3 family members who had perished in both the First and Second World Wars.

Serjeant George PringleImage: Serjeant George Pringle, Sally's Great-Great Uncle (photo courtesy of Sally McGlone)

The relatives were my Great Great Uncle, Serjeant George Pringle, Somerset Light Infantry, he died aged 33 of wounds sustained in a skirmish in the early hours of 1 July 1916, before the big push ‘over the top’ at the Battle of the Somme. He died in a battlefield clearing station on 3 July 1916.

My Grandmother’s cousin Eric Diggle Dodds, age 20, was a Blacksmith Fifth Class (Stoker) on board HMS Barham. He was killed when she was torpedoed, exploded, and sunk on 25 November 1941, he is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. 

Finally, another cousin of my grandmother, Gunner Matthew Wallace, age 31, was part of 64th Medium Artillery Regiment, Royal Artillery, he died at some point during the battle of El Alamein, his body was never found. His death is recorded as 14 November 1942. He is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial.

Finally, and she is among the casualties that make up the biggest single loss of female Army lives during the Second World War, all 26 Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) soldiers killed when their billet in the Imperial Hotel Great Yarmouth was bombed.

My Grandmother’s school friend, fellow servicewoman who was supposed to be her bridesmaid, Private Dorothy Ann Fawkes, was killed alongside 25 other servicewomen on 11 May 1943.

My Grandmother is now buried within two metres of Dorothy in a beautiful churchyard in remote Northumberland.

CWGC Headstone of Private Dorothy Ann Fawkes

Image: The headstone of Private Dorothy Ann Fawkes (photo courtesy of Sally McGlone)

Growing Up & Commonwealth War Graves

When I learned to drive and was at university in the mid-1990s, pursuing an undergraduate history & politics degree, it felt natural to want to visit battlefield sites and cemeteries. 

I had a sense of wanderlust that took me all over the UK and overseas. I revisited all the CWGC sites that I had been to as a young child but did not have an in-depth understanding of conflict and sacrifice. 

Looking back, an in-depth study of the Falklands Conflict for my 3rd Year final thesis was what finalised my desire to join the Military.

Whilst at University, I joined the Officer Training Corps and then went on to join the Royal Air Force in 1997. There were lectures during Initial Officer Training at RAF Cranwell. 

When I had finished Officer training at RAF Cranwell, I was posted to RAF Digby in Lincolnshire as the Station Adjutant, one of my roles was to organise inspections of remote Commonwealth War Graves sites and isolated headstones in the vicinity of the RAF base.

All the information was passed back to CWGC, this was 1998 and 1999 before everyone had email access and computers at work. Much of the information was passed by letter in buff-coloured folders.

I got to know the poetry of Pilot Officer J G Magee, who penned the poem ‘High Flight’, he was killed flying from RAF Digby and was one of the very first Commonwealth War Graves casualties with whom I spent time.

Many battlefield tours, and trips to CWGC cemeteries during my 16-year time in the military, all these stay with me. For the most recent ones, I have photographs to remember.

A woman in a blue floral top and dark trousers touching a CWGC headstone.

Image: Sally visiting the grave of  Serjeant George Pringle (photo courtesy of Sally McGlone)

The experience of being the first family member in over 100 years to visit my Great-Great Uncle in France was profound. I touched his headstone and felt the generational trauma of loss and pain lift, a rush of energy, light, and love, it was the most moving experience in my life so far.

Life after military service & working for Commonwealth War Graves

Having developed severe osteoarthritis during my 30s, I was medically discharged from the RAF in 2013.

For a long while, I felt overwhelmed and lost, but my passion for history pulled me through and I began doing all the research and exploration that I did not have time for while serving in the RAF. 

This led to a postgraduate Research master’s degree in history and now to a PhD, that parallels some work that the CWGC undertakes, particularly in its commemoration of female casualties.

I volunteered to help with a CWGC First World War Digital Collection Project in 2017/18 and met many wonderful fellow history enthusiasts who are still friends.

I was truly fortunate to be employed part-time by Commonwealth War Graves in 2018/19 in the first rollout of the ‘Eyes on Hands On’ Project before I moved house and was unable to continue in the role. 

I have just completed my first full year with the CWGC as the Accessibility Coordinator, a role that means the world to me, the feeling that I am doing something that will contribute to the continued commemoration of the fallen and allow those people with mobility issues to make an informed decision before they visit a site means that I feel I am doing something worthwhile.

Commonwealth War Graves Accessibility Coordinator

My role involves collating lots of information about individual Commonwealth War Graves sites, from Google Maps, photographs and reports completed by our ground’s teams and horticultural staff, I take all the information and produce a comprehensive report for visitors.

I look for all the areas that might cause accessibility difficulties for anyone who may have mobility challenges.

I also provide descriptions of what the cemetery terrain is like, how wide and high the gates are, where the register box is located, how far the parking is from the main entrance, and information on steps and seating areas.

All this work empowers visitors to make their own decisions on whether a particular site would be suitable for them to visit and helps everyone have an idea of the layout before they arrive.

This is very important for now and the future and fitting that I am in the role as a disabled veteran myself. Working to empower and support the community is near and dear to my heart, and I am grateful for all the support Commonwealth War Graves has shown me and others over the years.

Support Sally & the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation

Sally recently took on the TCS London Marathon MyWay challenge, covering the full 26.2km of the London Marathon virtually.

Sally was raising money for the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation – and you can still help Sally reach her fundraising goal!

Visit Sally’s donation page to make a contribution and help support her and the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation keep alive the memories of the Commonwealth’s war dead.

Tags London Marathon Commonwealth War Graves Foundation