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War Graves Commission spokesman Peter Francis
"We are very intent on keeping the names of the fallen alive"
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Thursday, 31 August, 2000, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
British war grave pay row
War Cemetery
War graves are tended year round
British gardeners tending war graves overseas are fighting plans which they say could leave some of them thousands of pounds a year worse off.

The War Graves Commission says the move, which affects 77 workers earning between 10,500 and 13,500 a year, is a "recalculation" of overseas allowances paid on top of salaries.

But the gardeners are attacking the plan as a "disgrace" and fear it will force them out of their jobs.

What is about to happen is a disgrace to the memory of the men who died

British gardener,
Ypres cemetery
The Transport and General Workers Union is planning an appeal to ministers if the commission does not reverse its decision.

The gardeners are mainly employed in northern France to look after cemetery gardens and headstones and to train local workers.

They are warning that, if too many of them are forced back to the UK and locals are drafted in as replacements, standards could fall.

War Graves Commission spokesman Peter Francis told the BBC it had fulfilled the "debt of honour" to Britain's war dead for the past 80 years "and we will continue to do so".


"We are very intent on keeping the names of the fallen alive so that future generations will understand the sacrifice paid for the freedoms that we enjoy," he said.

The commission says staff are given allowances for expenditure such as accommodation and the cost of keeping children in schools back at home.

The recalculation is the result of two years of consultations. But the commission is pledging to look at individual cases.

War graves
A place of pilgrimage for many visitors
One senior worker who tends graves at the British war cemetery in Ypres, Belgium, told The Mirror newspaper: "What is about to happen is a disgrace to the memory of the men who died."

He says that, with three children, the 450-a-month pay cut he is facing would force him out of his job and back to the UK.

Chris Kaufman, a TGWU national officer, says if British gardeners do leave their jobs, relatives and visitors arriving at war graves on the continent will not be able to find a "friendly face".

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