27 December 2017

Remembering Sir Reginald Blomfield

Wednesday 27 December marks 75 years since the death of Sir Reginald Blomfield - one of the first three architects commissioned by the then Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) to design cemeteries and memorials.

Blomfield began his architectural training in the office of his uncle, a successful practising architect, before establishing his own practice in 1883.

He served as President of the Royal Institute of British Architects between 1912 and 1914, and in 1918 was appointed as one of the Commission’s principal architects for France and Belgium. In this role he oversaw the design of more than 100 cemeteries, including the Commission's first cemeteries at Forceville, Le Treport and Louvencourt.

Blomfield also designed the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial in Belgium. Another important contribution he made to the Commission was his design of the Cross of Sacrifice, which can be found in most CWGC cemeteries. Blomfield said he wanted to make the cross abstract and impersonal, to free it from association with any particular style. It was a 'symbol of the ideals of those who had gone out to die'. His Cross of Sacrifice is recognisable throughout the world.

To mark the anniversary of his death, here are a range of items from the CWGC archive documenting his time with the Commission.

This is the letter from Blomfield accepting the IWGC's invitation to act as one of its principal architects, 6 March 1918.



Below is a letter from Blomfield to J.E. Talbot, Principal Assistant Secretary of the Commission, outlining his ideas for the design of the IWGC seal, 16 November 1918.


Forceville Communal Cemetery and Extension was one of the first three Commission cemeteries to be designed by Blomfield. Below is an architectural drawing of the cemetery from January 1919.


The Cross of Sacrifice, designed by Blomfield, can be found in most CWGC cemeteries where there are more than 40 casualties buried. The images below show a Cross of Sacrifice being erected in an unknown CWGC cemetery in France in the early 1920s.


Here Blomfield is photographed showing King George V plans for the Menin Gate Memorial in May 1922. Blomfield viewed the Menin Gate as one of only three works he wanted to be remembered by, stating that it was “perhaps the only building I have ever designed in which I do not want anything altered”. The memorial remains one of the most visited war memorials in the world.


While his official role with the IWGC came to an end in 1928, Blomfield remained interested in the work he had carried out as Principal Architect. When the Menin Gate was damaged during the Second World War he wrote to the Commission suggesting methods to repair the damage, while also suggesting some damage be allowed to remain as ‘scars of war’. 


Blomfield died at his home in Hampstead, London, on 27 December 1942. At the following meeting of IWGC Commissioners, his death was noted and condolences sent to his widow. Here is a copy of the letter of condolence sent to Blomfield’s widow from Fabian Ware on 21 January 1943.


Further information about Sir Reginald Blomfield can be found in the CWGC archive collection.

Latest News

On a misty morning in March 1918 a small group of soldiers faced being overwhelmed. Their task was to hold out for as long as they could. There was no chance of relief or rescue. They were led by a school teacher, Lieutenant Colonel Wilfrith Elstob, whose example would inspire them to fight to the bitter end. “The Manchester Regiment will defend Manchester Hill to the last” - was Elstob’s final communication on 21 March 1918.

In the 16 days of Operation Michael, the German and British armies both suffered terrible losses. The Commission commemorates almost 37,000 service personnel who died in France during the attack. More than 23,000 have no known grave and are commemorated on CWGC memorials to the missing.

On 21 March 1918, the German Army launched its spring offensive with Operation Michael. Here are nine things you need to know about the attack.