By a supplemental charter dated 7 February 1941 the Imperial War Graves Commission was empowered to collect and record the names of civilians who died from enemy action during World War II. Using information supplied by the Registrar-General and local authorities an initial list of 43,000 names was compiled covering just the period of the Battle of Britain in 1940 and the big air raids of 1940-41. In 1942 this was made available to the public for consultation and comment. An understanding that the Roll should eventually be placed in Westminster Abbey was reached with the Dean and Chapter at about this time, but it was decided that this should not happen until the list had been made complete at the end of hostilities. The first six volumes were handed over to the Dean and Chapter by The Duke of Gloucester, President of the Imperial War Graves Commission, at a short ceremony in the Jerusalem Chamber (part of the Deanery) on 21 February 1956; the final volume was added to the showcase in 1958.
The Roll consists of seven leather-bound volumes (the work of the binder Roger Powell) containing printed details of 66,375 fatalities. Entries are not arranged chronologically but by county, and within county by local government areas (many of which have changed since 1945). The lists are then alphabetical by surname and give details of the residential address, place of death and family relationship (e.g., “wife of...”, “son of...”). One volume covers deaths on board ship and deaths abroad (including civilian deaths in prison camps). This volume also has addenda for the whole Roll.
The books are kept just outside the entrance to St George’s Chapel at the west end of Westminster Abbey, in a case designed by a former Surveyor of the Fabric, Stephen Dykes Bower. One volume is always open on display and pages are turned periodically. Specific entries can be seen by arrangement with the Dean’s Verger (preferably with advance notice).
At the service on 23 May 2017 to mark the centenary of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission two supplementary books were processed through the Abbey and presented to the Dean at the High Altar. These contain several hundred new names, many of them who died overseas, uncovered by recent research, who had been missed from the original listings.
Copies from books
The books cannot be photocopied as this would damage the fine binding, but copies of entries can be obtained from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission at 2 Marlow Road, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 7DX (a charge is made). The Commission’s ‘Debt of Honour Register’, which includes all the names on the Civilian War Dead Roll of Honour, can be searched via the internet at www.cwgc.org
Another copy of the Roll is held by the Imperial War Museum and can be consulted by appointment in the Museum’s library.
Blitz memorial and USA rolls of honour
A memorial to all those who died in the London Blitz was placed just outside St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Roll of Honour for United States servicemen who died in air raids in the United Kingdom is in St Paul’s Cathedral, in the American Memorial Chapel there.
See also the entry for Fabian Ware who put forward the idea to commemorate civilians.