From the Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium and the Thiepval Memorial in France to India Gate in Delhi and the Helles Memorial in Turkey, the Commission tends to some of the most iconic architectural structures in the world. From tiny cemeteries containing just a handful of graves to Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium with more than 11,000 burials, the Commission ensures the memory of all those who died in the two world wars is preserved with utmost respect.

The architects who worked for the Commission in the early years were given freedom to interpret their ideas in response to the First World War within the parameters of simple guidelines. The result was some of the most original and moving architecture. Many of these now stand as landmarks on the sites of former battlefields, a physical manifestation of the history of two world wars.

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

"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. 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 more than 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 more than 1,000 burials have a Stone of Remembrance designed by Sir Edwin 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.

We are proud of our architectural heritage and have a full programme of work that helps to keep its structure and integrity up to the highest standards. Find out how our conservation team cares for our sites.