Today, 21 May 2017, marks the centenary of the founding by Royal Charter of the Imperial – now Commonwealth – War Graves Commission (CWGC). The Commission was the driving force in ensuring that those who died serving their country during the First World War were properly honoured and remembered.
In commemoration, we have upgraded or newly listed 15 of Sir Herbert Baker’s 24 English war memorials. The eminent architect, along with fellow principal architects Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Reginald Blomfeld, worked on designing and constructing the CWGC’s profundly moving, sombre cemeteries and memorials. Rudyard Kipling advised on inscriptions.
During the First World War, hundreds of thousands of soldiers were hurriedly buried in temporary cemeteries by their comrades, their graves often marked by a simple wooden cross, with their name and brief details. Government orders followed that no soldiers’ bodies were to be repatriated to Britain. Instead, under the auspices of the CWGC led by the dynamic Fabian Ware, most were moved from their wartime graves and reburied with identical headstones – no matter their rank, race, religion or background – in specially designed war cemeteries in France and Belgium.
Over 2,400 such cemeteries were created in the two countries during the 1920’s, with Baker designing and supervising the construction of 113. All continue to be meticulously cared for by the CWGC, along with others across the globe, ensuring that the 1.7 million people who died in both world wars will never be forgotten.
See 15 examples of Sir Herbert Baker’s English war memorials, plus his extraordinary Tyne Cot Memorial in the gallery below. Click on the picture to read the full caption.
Winchester College War Cloister, Winchester, Hampshire. Dedicated 31 May 1924. Upgraded to Grade I. Herbert Baker designed this memorial in the unusual form of a medieval cloister, reflecting the college’s ancient buildings and serving as a via sacra (sacred way) to its precincts. The War Cloister is a poignant memorial to the 513 men of Winchester College who died during the First World War; their names engraved on stone tablets within. The architect had a strong interest in symbolism, manifested by decoration that includes coats-of-arms, angels carrying gilded symbols such as a dove of peace and ears of corn, and badges of the 120 regiments in which the college’s students served. Carefully chosen stone floor slabs in each corner represent the three Dominions of the then British Empire – South African granite, Australian syenite, Canadian marble, as well as Indian black marble. An ornate gilded memorial inscription runs as a continuous band round the knapped flint walls of the Cloister, and a stone Celtic cross, flanked below by two crusaders – their broadswords pointing downwards – stands in the central garden of remembrance.
Blackmoor War Memorial Cloister, Hampshire. Unveiled in 1920. Upgraded to Grade II*. This memorial was commissioned by Lord and Lady Selborne in memory of their second son, Captain Robert Palmer, killed in Mesopotamia, January 1916. The vernacular design draws on the Arts & Crafts tradition; its simple timber framing reminiscent of an ancient agricultural building. It takes the form of a three-sided cloister, enclosing a garden with a memorial stone cross as a focus. Commemorative bronze plaques are fixed to the Cloister’s interior wall, remembering both Captain Palmer and the dead of the village in both world wars. A memorial fountain sits in a niche, flanked on one side by a War plaque, showing a leafless tree above, and on the other a Peace plaque with a tree in full leaf with blossoms. The fountain was intended to be a water supply for the next door school’s children who would: ‘…provide animation and lively activity, uniting the dead and the living future of the village.’
Blackmoor War Plaque
Blackmoor Peace Plaque
County of Kent War Memorial, Canterbury. Unveiled 4 August 1921. Newly listed at Grade II*. The 6 metre tall cross forms a striking focus at the centre of the Memorial Garden, with Canterbury Cathedral to the west and the historic garden walls and ancient city walls to the east. A number of Baker’s recurrent symbols decorate the memorial – carved stone roses and lilies, representing England and France, forming a circlet round the cross; a reversed sword is carved on the shaft, along with a Crusader warship with billowing sails. The principal inscription reads: TO THE SACRED MEMORY OF THE SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF KENT WHO DIED IN THE GREAT WAR 1914-1919. Baker was a proud Kentish man.
King’s School War Memorial, Canterbury, Kent. Unveiled 19 December 1921. Newly graded at Grade II*. The 7 metre tall stone cross, with its octagonal shaft, stands within the school’s Memorial Court near its Grade I listed Norman staircase. A tablet with the names of the 146 boys who died in the First World War, in order of their leaving school, was fixed in 1925 to the adjacent undercroft and dedicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The cross stands on a 3-step plinth and Baker intended that these steps would have a practical use for the school – the lower step for games announcements; the middle step for ordinary school business; the top step for conducting open-air services.
Hatfield War Memorial, Hertfordshire. Unveiled 12 June 1921. Newly graded at Grade II*. Herbert Baker designed this brick-walled memorial garden, with its Portland stone cross, gates and pavilion, as a permanent testament to the sacrifice of local people who lost their lives in the First World War. The cross, like others designed by Baker, is encircled with carved stone roses and lilies, representing England and France, that trail down the top of the shaft. The garden pavilion, which is reminiscent of the shelter buildings that Baker designed for the cemeteries of the Western Front, was intended as a place to give protection to visitors from the weather. Stone tablets within are inscribed with names of the dead of both world wars. A beautifully carved band above carries a biblical quote from 1 Corinthians 15: ‘ THANKS BE TO GOD WHICH GIVETH US THE VICTORY…’
Hatfield War Memorial plaque
Lych-gate, St Faith’s church, Overbury, Worcestershire. Unveiled 12 September 1921. Upgraded to Grade II*. The lych-gate was designed by Herbert Baker for the Holland-Martin family of Overbury Court. Their 19 year-old son, Geoffrey Holland-Martin, was killed in action in France, March 1918 and had no known grave. There are many lych-gate memorials in England, but this is an exceptionally fine example reflecting Baker’s interest in symbolism, with its carved angels and central coffin rest reminiscent of the empty tomb of a cenotaph. The heavy oak timberwork, carved with biblical quotes, evokes an ancient agricultural building. Tiles for the roof were reputedly recycled from old buildings in the village. The coffin rest carries a main inscription remembering the fallen of Overbury, along with their names. Its north side bears a quotation from William Blake’s poem ‘Jerusalem’, I WILL NOT CEASE/ FROM MENTAL FIGHT/ NOR SHALL MY SWORD/ SLEEP IN MY HAND/ TILL WE HAVE BUILT/ JERUSALEM/ IN ENGLANDS GREEN/ AND PLEASANT LAND.
Hampshire and Isle of Wight Memorial, Winchester. Unveiled 31 October 1921. Newly listed at Grade II*. This poignant memorial, dramatically framed by the great west window of the cathedral, remembers the 8,786 servicemen – from Hampshire and the Isle of Wight – who died during the First World War, as well as 460 citizens of the city. Its base incorporates a stone from the iconic 13th century Ypres Cloth Hall in Belgium, destroyed by enemy artillery fire that devastated the city. It is carved with a cross of Lorraine, symbolically linking the memorial to the Western Front campaign.
Harrow School War Memorial Building, Harrow-on-the-Hill, Greater London. Upgraded to Grade II*. Opened by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin 3 June 1926. Herbert Baker designed this war memorial grouping in 1920 to be at the very heart of the school. A Neo-Jacobean Memorial Building with a gated and vaulted loggia houses the sacred Memorial Shrine with a lamp that must remain lit at all times in memory of the 642 students who died in the First World War. Within the Shrine is a austere sarcophagus decorated with a carved sword and wreaths. Wall panels are inscribed with the names of the fallen, each surmounted with gilded words, part of which read: ‘…Remember those who died for freedom and honour and see you to it that they shall not be forgotten.’ Lady Fitch funded the outstanding decoration of the room above the Shrine in memory of her son, Alexander Fitch, a former pupil, who was killed in nothern France, September 1918. Elizabethan oak panelling and fittings were brought here from Brooke House, Hackney, including an ornate stone fireplace, with carvings from the period of Henry VII. The teak boards used for the floor came from HMS St Vincent, a Napoleonic battleship built at Plymouth in 1815.
Harrow School War Memorial Shrine
Ascot War Memorial, Berkshire. Newly listed at Grade II. This simple yet elegant memorial cross in Portland stone commemorates the 64 local servicemen who died in the First World War. Their names are inscribed on the base, with a relief carving of the biblical quote from Ecclesiastes 44: THEIR NAME LIVETH FOR EVERMORE. This phrase was originally chosen by Rudyard Kipling to be inscribed on Sir Edwin Lutyens’ Stone of Remembrance which is found in many Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries in France and Belgium
Chicheley War Memorial, Buckinghamshire. Unveiled by Lady Farrar 22 October 1920. Newly listed at Grade II. The patron of this war memorial was Lady Farrar, widow of Sir George Farrar who died in an accident while on active service in Namibia in 1915. He is commemorated on the memorial, as are the eight local servicemen who died in the war; each name and date of death carved on one face of the octagonal plinth’s middle tier. Baker had designed a house for the Farrar’s in South Africa.
Etchingham War Memorial, East Sussex. Unveiled 28 April 1920 by Rudyard Kipling who lived in the nearby village of Burwash. Newly listed at Grade II. . This simple 3 metre high cross stands in St Nicholas and St Mary’s churchyard. The names of the 15 local men who fell in the First World War are inscribed on the five faces of the lower plinth. The upper tier reads: AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN AND IN THE MORNING WE WILL REMEMBER THEM – words from the poem ‘For the Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon, published September 1914.
Kemerton War Memorial, Worcestershire. Unveiled 9 January 1921. Newly listed at Grade II. This limestone memorial cross, standing in the High Street at a road junction, commemorates the 20 local servicemen who died in the First World War. The biblical quote from John 15: GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS and the date 1914 + 1919 are carved in relief around the top of the plinth, with the names of the fallen inscribed on the sides.
Potterne War Memorial, Wiltshire. Unveiled June 1921. Newly listed at Grade II. This simple Portland stone cross, reached by steep steps, stands outside the church of St Mary, in the north-east corner of the churchyard. 26 men from the village gave their lives in the First World War and their names are recorded on the plinth.
Richmond War Memorial, North Yorkshire. Unveiled 23 October 1921. Newly listed at Grade II. This Staindrop stone memorial, with its small cross on an octagonal shaft, remembers the 101 local servicemen who died in the First World War. Their names are incised on the stone octagonal base, along with with a carved motif of a Crusader warship, a device that Baker was to use elsewhere. The memorial stands in front of the 15th century Grey Friars Tower – all that remains of a Franciscan friary founded in 1257.
Rochester War Memorial, Kent. Unveiled 1922. Newly listed at Grade II. This Portland stone memorial stands between Rochester Cathedral and the High Street. It remembers the sacrifice made by members of the local community who lost their lives in the First World War. The principal inscription reads: LEST WE FORGET 1914-1918 – a phrase from Rudyard Kipling’s 1897 poem ‘Recessional.’ A number of recurrent Baker memorial themes are represented here – a cross with an octagonal shaft, a reversed sword and Crusader warship in low relief, and an octagonal plinth with steps.
Tyne Cot Memorial, near Ypres, Belgium. Unveiled 20 June 1927. After the Armistice of 11 November 1918, Tyne Cot was formally established as a military cemetery under the auspices of the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission (CWGC), with Herbert Baker commissioned as designer and architect. Tyne Cot, or ‘Tyne Cottage’, was the name given by the Northumberland Fusiliers to a German pill box complex near Passchendaele in the Ypres salient, eventually captured by British and Empire forces October 1917. The largest pill box became a dressing station for casualties, and the 343 who died from their injuries were buried nearby. After the war’s end, the authorities decided to consolidate all the graves in the region, and the remains of thousands of soldiers were brought to Tyne Cot for re-interment from the battlefields of Passchendaele and Langemarck, and from nine other small burial grounds. There are now 11,961 British and Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated at Tyne Cot. 8,373 of the burials are unidentified and these graves bear the moving words: ‘A SOLDIER OF THE GREAT WAR/KNOWN UNTO GOD.’ This is largest of the Commission’s cemeteries reflecting the bitter fighting which took place around Ypres from October 1914 to October 1918. The cemetery’s curved north-eastern perimeter wall is the Memorial to the Missing where the names of 34,959 men who have no known grave are inscribed. Reginald Blomfeld’s Cross of Sacrifice with its embedded reversed bronze sword – found in most CWCG cemeteries – was erected on the original large German pillbox/dressing station at the suggestion of George V (the Queen’s grandfather) when he visited the cemetery in 1922 while it was being created.