Our Cemetery design and features

Sir Frederic Kenyon summed up his vision for the Commission cemeteries in February 1918 thus:

'the general appearance of a British cemetery will be that of an enclosure with plots of grass or flowers (or both) separated by paths of varying size, and set with orderly rows of headstones, uniform in height and width.  Shrubs and trees will be arranged in various places, sometimes as clumps at the junctions of ways, sometimes as avenues along the sides of the principal paths, sometimes around the borders of the cemetery.  The graves will, wherever possible, face towards the east, and at the eastern end of the cemetery will be a great altar stone, raised upon broad steps, and bearing some brief and appropriate phrase or text.  Either over the stone, or elsewhere in the cemetery, will be a small building, where visitors may gather for shelter or for worship, and where the register of the graves will be kept.  And at some prominent spot will rise the Cross, as the symbol of the Christian faith and of the self-sacrifice of the men who now lie beneath its shadow.'

 

The Commission has always believed in honouring all casualties equally, without distinction on account of rank, race or creed. Within the framework set down by Sir Frederic Kenyon, who described his vision for the cemeteries in a report in 1918, the architects were free to interpret their own ideas.  Thus individual cemeteries, while conforming to the guidelines, often have great character and beauty, responding to the local environment or the surrounding architecture.  No two cemeteries are the same but they all more or less conform to the same pattern.


Structural Features

Common features of our cemeteries are the surrounding stone walls and wrought-iron gates. At larger sites, you will also find a shelter building where the cemetery register is stored behind a bronze door.  This will give you information about conflicts fought in the area and a history of the cemetery. In all but the smallest cemeteries, there is a register box containing an inventory of the burials and a plan of the plots and rows.

In any cemetery with over 40 graves, you can find the Cross of Sacrifice, designed by the architect Sir Reginald Blomfield to represent the faith of the majority. By using a simple cross embedded with a bronze sword and mounted on an octagonal base, Blomfield hoped, in his words, 'to keep clear of any of the sentimentalities of Gothic'.

Cemeteries with over 1,000 burials have a Stone of Remembrance, designed by Lutyens to commemorate those of all faiths and none. The geometry of the structure was based on studies of the Parthenon and steers purposefully clear of shapes associated with particular religions.

 

Graves

Individual graves are marked by uniform headstones, differentiated only by their inscriptions: the national emblem or regimental badge, rank, name, unit, date of death and age of each casualty is inscribed above an appropriate religious symbol and a more personal dedication chosen by relatives. Where there is risk of earth movement, graves are marked instead by bronze plaques on low pedestals.