The work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) will be highlighted in a new visitor centre, to be opened by HRH The Princess Royal in France next week.
For the first time, visitors to the battlefields of Northern France will be able to gain an insight into the behind the scenes work that makes remembrance of the 1.7 million Commonwealth war dead possible.
A key element of the new centre is the role CWGC staff play in the recovery and reburial of the war dead. Although searching of the battlefields ended shortly after the two World Wars, each year the former battlefields yield poignant reminders of the human cost. CWGC’s dedicated exhumation officers rush to the scene of such discoveries to recover and record every detail and item that might reveal the identity of the individual.
In recent years, the numbers of discoveries has increased as towns and cities expand into what were battlefields, and currently averages at 40 such cases a year. Each case might be for an individual or multiple discovery of remains.
Despite being busier than ever, even at the current rate it would take CWGC’s exhumation officers more than 4,300 years to find all of the missing – a chilling reminder of the scale of losses.
Following detailed investigation by the CWGC’s member governments, each person, whether known or unknown, is given a burial with full honours in the most appropriate CWGC cemetery – so that comrades who served and died together, are buried and remembered together, in perpetuity.
Recovery and reburial is just one aspect of the new centre.
For the first time visitors will be able to see the Commission’s team of skilled craftsman at work. Taking a tour of their workshops and observing them as they continue their century-long task of caring for some of the world’s most impressive and recognisable monuments and memorials.
The centre aims to provide a greater understanding of the organisation’s work commemorating the 1.7 million men and women who died in the service of King and Country during the two World Wars. It will provide a snap shot of the work of the Commission at over 23,000 sites across the globe where it continues to commemorate the final resting places and memorials of the war dead. The project, which has been made possible with the support of a £700,000 LIBOR grant, is backed by the UK government.
Victoria Wallace, CWGC’s Director General, said, “For over 100 years, the CWGC has worked to care for our war dead. I am delighted that we can now share with the public the skills, the dedication and the craftsmanship of our fantastic team, working on the Western Front and around the world. We hope young people in particular will gain inspiration from this extraordinary legacy of care.”
During their tour, visitors will be able to watch the Headstone Production Team using 21st century technology to carve the iconic headstones, carefully crafting regimental badges and personal inscriptions, ensuring the names of the men who died remain legible. The highly skilled team of blacksmiths, stonemasons, carpenters and horticulturists will offer demonstrations on the restoration and conservation of the iconic features of the CWGC’s sites, designed by some of the 20th Century’s most influential architects.
The CWGC Experience will not only focus on the organisation’s commitments in Western Europe, but also shine a light on the ongoing responsibilities across Africa, Asia, Australasia, Eastern Europe and the Americas. It will show how its team maintain sites in diverse environments, and the ground-breaking work managing the impact of climate change.
The CWGC Experience will open to the public on 26 June 2019 at The Commonwealth War Graves, 5-7 Rue Angele Richard CS10109, 62217 Beaurains, France.
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