Creating a unified vision

The man tasked with bringing disparate designs and personalities into one coherent whole was the Director of the British Museum, Sir Frederic Kenyon.

War Graves: How the Cemeteries Abroad Will Be Designed, also known as the Kenyon Report, 1918. © CWGC.

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In November 1918, the Kenyon Report was produced: it was the first formal statement of the Commission’s purpose, principles and processes. In it Kenyon expressed the hope that the “cumulative” effect of the cemeteries and memorials would express “the common spirit of the nation, the common purpose of the Army, and the common sacrifice of the individual”.

While the Kenyon Report was a useful internal document, the Commission now needed to explain to the public how its vision would be realised.  There was only one man for the job: Rudyard Kipling.  In 1919 Kipling wrote The Graves of the Fallen, explaining and illustrating the new cemeteries’ key features. 

The Graves of the Fallen by Rudyard Kipling, 1919. © CWGC.

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Letter from grieving mother Lina Hunter to the Commission, 18 February 1919. © CWGC.

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In The Graves of the Fallen Kipling invited suggestions from the public for designs of memorials to the missing, an issue that had not yet been settled by Kenyon’s committee.  Of the many replies we received, one from bereaved mother Lina Hunter was especially poignant.  She described being inspired by a “vision” she had of her son, Captain Nigel Hunter, “climbing a hill with determined face, with a half-circle of five angels behind him”.

“it was realised, above all, that each cemetery and individual grave should be made as permanent as man’s art could devise.” 

Rudyard Kipling, The Graves of the Fallen, 1919


By 1920 three ‘trial’ cemeteries were created to test the Commission’s design principles.  Forceville, Louvencourt and Le Treport were all designed by Reginald Blomfield.  Forceville was considered the most successful – a Times correspondent wrote that “it is the most perfect, the noblest, the most classically beautiful memorial that any loving heart or proud nation could desire to their heroes fallen in a foreign land”.  

Below: Architectural plans and archive pictures of the first three Commission cemeteries built: Forceville, Louvencourt and Le Treport.

Forceville Cemetery

Le Treport archive photograph

Le Treport Cemetery

Louvencourt Cemetery plan

Louvencourt, archive photograph

Louvencourt Cemetery

“The biggest single bit of work since any of the Pharaohs – and they only worked in their own country”

Rudyard Kipling

It was not only on the Western Front that the cemeteries were being built. From the UK to Gallipoli, from the Middle East to Africa, Commonwealth men and women were commemorated.

Arguably the Imperial War Graves Commission led the way in facing up to the war’s devastating effects and creating a powerful visual legacy that would ensure the conflict was never forgotten. Yet there were also accusations that creating beautiful and tranquil sites of remembrance was itself a form of denial, sanitising the brutal bloodshed of battle. The war poet Siegfried Sassoon’s scathing criticism of the Menin Gate, with its “intolerably nameless names” comprising a “sepulchre of crime”, is testament to the ire that many felt at these new forms of commemoration. Read on to learn more about the controversies that beset the Commission in its early years…

On Passing the New Menin Gate

by Siegfried Sassoon (pub.1936)

Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
the unheroic dead who fed the guns?
Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate,-
Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones?

Crudely renewed, the Salient holds its own.
Paid are its dim defenders by this pomp;
Paid, with a pile of peace-complacent stone,
The armies who endured that sullen swamp.

Here was the world’s worst wound. And here with pride
‘Their name liveth for ever’, the Gateway claims.
Was ever an immolation so belied
as these intolerably nameless names?
Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime
Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime.