Shaping Our Sorrow

100 years ago one of the most devastating wars in history came to an end.  Once the fighting ceased, the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission began: we undertook the mammoth task of commemorating the Empire’s dead across the globe.

This exhibition explores how the Commission provided a physical form and emotional outlet for a nation and world in mourning, combining the visionary talents of architectural, literary and cultural giants of the day.  Structured around the theory of the five stages of grief, it gives an insight into the difficult and often controversial decisions that helped to shape remembrance as we know it.

Join us as we follow in the century-old footsteps of those who first braved the battlefields in search of the dead…


Often the initial response to death is shock, which can manifest itself as a refusal or inability to confront the reality of loss.  The general public in Britain and across the Commonwealth struggled to comprehend the nature and scale of death during the First World War.  A vast number of...

Go to Denial section


Anger is the most visceral and volatile stage of grief, when the desire to blame external forces often mingles with a sense of guilt at surviving. Plenty of anger was directed at the Commission as it established the ground rules for a uniform style of commemoration. Many people resented what...

Go to Anger section


From the outset, the Commission had to delicately negotiate relationships with the bereaved from across the UK and the world.  We needed to arrange the practicalities of commemorating so many people, whilst ensuring that voices from different nations and communities were heard. 

Go to Bargaining section


The Depression phase of grief involves confronting the irrevocable fact of death, with the sometimes paralysing realisation that its effects will be felt for the rest of one’s life. This is often a time of intense isolation, and though Commission staffers were part of an ever-growing collective, the majority of...

Go to Depression section


However long it takes, the stages of grief are always moving towards acceptance – an understanding of death’s implications and a concerted adjustment to life’s new circumstances. For the Commission, this involved a gradual shift from divided public opinion over our approach to a more general consensus of approval. Indeed,...

Go to Acceptance section