Known and respected for the quiet dignity and immaculate presentation of its cemeteries, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible for maintaining graves, memorials and their surrounding grounds in more than 140 different countries around the world.
In the United Kingdom alone, there are close to 170,000 war graves and memorials in the Commission's care, many located within burial grounds looked after by the organisation's own staff and gardeners with the help of an array of powered machinery and hand tools.
One machine that has been ever-present within the Commission's armoury at home and overseas since the early 1990s is the Allett Buffalo 27 walk-behind cylinder mower, used throughout the year to trim the grass between and surrounding the solemn ranks of head stones and memorials.
A high profile site maintained by the Commission with help from four Buffalo 27 mowers is the Brookwood Military Cemetery, near Woking, Surrey. Established in 1917, the year that the CWGC was founded, the cemetery was created to provide a resting place for the servicemen and women who died in the London area as a result of wounds received on the Western Front during the First World War or from sickness or training accidents. The cemetery was extended later to accommodate casualties from the Second World War and now covers around 15 hectares.
In addition to more than 5,000 Commonwealth graves, the cemetery houses the Canadian Records building and the Brookwood Memorial, an imposing, circular structure commemorating almost 3,500 men and women of the Commonwealth land forces that died during the Second World War and have no known grave.
Responsibility for the grounds at Brookwood Military Cemetery lies with Senior Head Gardener, Mark Creber, and eight gardener caretakers. "All ornamental grass is cut down to 25mm once a week between mid March and late October using the Alletts or a rotary machine," explained Mark. "The choice of mower comes down to grass location, length and type but the Alletts are dedicated primarily to cutting and collecting grass in the larger, high profile areas close to the graves and memorials where visitors walk."
Mark pointed out that the Buffalo is a great all-rounder, able to produce an excellent finish in virtually all weathers and growth conditions thanks to its robust, 200mm diameter, eight-bladed cylinder. "It's also a very quiet machine, manoeuvrable and easy to operate," said Mark. "This makes it ideal for work between and around head stones. Daily maintenance and mower adjustments are extremely straightforward. In my opinion, it's a true operator's machine."
Having settled on the Buffalo for the regular mowing of larger areas of grass, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has since selected Allett Tournament 20 mowers to look after smaller, prestige lawns where a finer, closer cut is needed.
A direct replacement for a machine purchased originally in 1999, one of the Commission's latest Tournament 20s is responsible for keeping the grass neatly mown within the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, Surrey. The centrepiece of this secluded, tranquil site is a striking monument fronted by four rectangular lawns surrounded by cloisters upon whose walls are recorded the names of more than 20,000 Commonwealth air force personnel who were lost without trace in operations during the Second World War.
Resident gardener, Ian Haskell, uses his Tournament 20 to mow the 600 sq m of fine turf within the cloisters twice a week. Set at a cutting height of 16mm, the mower trims grass which is walked upon each year by many hundreds of visitors from around the world.
"It's most important that our grounds and buildings maintenance are carried out quietly and efficiently to show respect for those honoured by the memorial and those who visit it," commented Ian. "I like the Tournament because it produces a first-class result without fuss or bother. Settings and servicing are very simple and the mower has proved trouble-free over the many years that I've used it, backed by excellent support from Allett. In my opinion, it's a great British machine."
Image 1: Gardener caretaker, Brian Story, guides the Allett Buffalo 27 between the massed ranks of head stones at the Brookwood Military Cemetery, near Woking, Surrey.
Image 2: Ian Haskell, resident gardener at the Air Forces Memorial, Runnymede, Surrey, uses an Allett Tournament 20 to mow four prestige lawns twice a week during the season.