Competing designs

Ware and his team believed the war cemeteries should have consistent features that distinguished them from their civilian counterparts.  However, what those features should look like – and even be called – was hotly contested.  


The most crucial decision was that headstones should have a uniform appearance.  A Headstone Committee was set up that included the Principal Architects and operational staff, as well as the graphic designer Leslie MacDonald Gill and the Director of the National Gallery, Charles John Holmes.  Different shapes and spacing options were discussed, as shown here.

Specimen designs sent out by the Commission to the colonels of all regiments to ask their opinions, Jan 1918.

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Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker both submitted designs. Baker suggested heraldic shields as an adornment, wanting to associate the First World War with the medieval Crusades. It featured a complex colour-coded system of bars, chevrons and symbols to mark years of service, wounds and awards.

Letters from Baker to Fabian Ware explaining the rationale of his designs, 15 and 16 October 1917. © CWGC.

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Heraldic headstone designs by Herbert Baker.

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From top to bottom, anchor in circle, details of deceased, cross, space for 4 line inscription chosen by relatives

A standard Commission headstone with rounded top.  © CWGC.

In the end, a simpler design was chosen that reportedly resembled Lutyens’ proposal (drawings of which do not survive). The rounded shape was intended to be neutral, allowing for the commemoration of all faiths and nationalities.

Leslie MacDonald Gill created a unique upper-case typeface for all headstone lettering.

Leslie MacDonald Gill created a unique upper-case font for all headstone lettering. c.1918.  © CWGC.

Stone of Remembrance


A technical drawing of the Stone of Remembrance. © CWGC.

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Letter from Edwin Lutyens to Fabian Ware containing an initial sketch of the Stone of Remembrance, 19 October 1918. © CWGC.

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The Commission felt that there should be some kind of commemorative focal point in its cemeteries to tie the multitude of graves together as one shared sacrifice. Lutyens was keen for this to be a universal or non-religious symbol to which people could attach their own meanings. He considered a solid bronze ball and a regularly-chiming bell, before conceiving the now-familiar stone block as a kind of secular altar.

Lutyens’ ‘stoneology’ letter listing possible names for what became the Stone of Remembrance, 27 August 1917. © CWGC.

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But no one quite knew what to call it or what to inscribe on it.  Lutyens wanted “one thought in clear letters so that all men for all time may read and know the reason why these stones are so placed throughout France”.  The original suggestion was “Their bodies lie buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore”(Ecclesiasticus 44:14), intended to run continuously round the stone above a large ‘AMEN’.  However, as Lutyens’ letter explains, the full quote was too unwieldy to be effective.

Lutyens also considered many possible names for the stone.  He listed them in a letter to Ware, calling it his “stoneology”.  Options included “The Battle Stone”, “The Stone of Peace”, “The Stone of Pity”, “The King’s Stone” and “Our Stone” – all conveying quite different messages and tones.  Interestingly, the name that was finally chosen is not on this list.

The seemingly-simple Stone of Remembrance actually uses an ingenious architectural technique devised for Classical temples.  Known as entasis, the Stone’s edges are subtle convex curves that create an optical illusion of imposing scale and strength.

Australian National War Memorial & British Military Cemetery.

Herbert Baker’s design for the Cross of Sacrifice, November 1917. © CWGC.

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Edwin Lutyens’ design for the Cross of Sacrifice, front and side elevations. © RIBA 35147.

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There was concern, especially amongst Church of England clerics, that the stone of Remembrance was too secular. So the Commission devised the ‘Cross of Sacrifice’ for majority-Christian cemeteries. Baker and Lutyens produced similar designs based on typical medieval crosses in English country churchyards. Baker featured a bronze longsword on the front, which he named the ‘Ypres Cross’; it was engraved with a small bronze image of a sailing ship, symbolising the Royal Navy’s role in winning the war.

Blomfield bluntly said of his colleagues’ efforts: “runic monuments or gothic crosses have nothing to do with the grim horrors of the trenches”.  He produced a more dramatically simple design with prominent cross-arms.  Like Baker, he incorporated a bronze sword called the ‘Sword of Sacrifice’, but he wrote that its meaning was pointedly “abstract and impersonal”.  He wanted to avoid the “fripperies” and “sentimentalities of Gothic”: “I hoped to get within range of the infinite in this symbol of the ideals of those who had gone out to die”.  Blomfield’s design was ultimately chosen, and would become a model for local war memorials across the UK.

Diagram of Reginald Blomfield’s Cross of Sacrifice, and the realised design at Bedford House Cemetery, Ieper.  © CWGC.

“to some, it is a Christian cross: to others, the stone is irrelevant and the sword itself is the cross; and to others, the artwork symbolises those who sacrificed their lives to the sword.”

Fabian Ware on Reginald Blomfield’s ‘Cross of Sacrifice’, 1924