01 January 2018

Message from the Director General

The Commission’s Director General Victoria Wallace reflects on the year and looks ahead to 2018.


"This time of year brings with it a gentle reminder that we are still an organisation which works with the seasons. Around the offices and base sites in Europe, there is a definite wind-down, a sense that the growing season is currently in abatement, but the certain knowledge that come the spring, all will burst into activity again…

2017’s “growing season” was a particularly frantic one. We began the year remembering the terrible loss of the SS Mendi with our South African colleagues. The centenary of the Third Battle of Ypres – which entered the public imagination as Passchendaele – was a key moment of commemoration for most of our member nations, and a time for the focus to shift from the Somme to Flanders and the Salient. Our teams there worked tirelessly with Governments to ensure their events on our sites were delivered seamlessly, and it was hugely gratifying that much of the media attention focussed on our horticulture teams who keep the sites so beautifully all year round. Later in the year we also supported major events at Beersheba, and marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein.

It was also our own centenary; a moment – for once - to be celebrating the CWGC itself. Our Centenary programme was aimed at raising the Commission’s profile, and celebrating the achievements of our team over the last century. It was wonderful to begin the celebrations with a silver medal at Chelsea Flower Show for our artisan garden, designed by David Domoney, and realised with the help of our own team under the leadership of David Richardson, Director of Horticulture. During the same week, staff came from around the world to join us and many friends and supporters at Westminster Abbey in a really inspiring service of thanksgiving. Our exhibition at Brookwood, tracking our history, was the centrepiece of many events at one of our most iconic sites in the UK, which was supported by a hugely committed and enthusiastic band of volunteers. And then in August the extraordinary Poppies: Wave came to our Plymouth Naval Memorial – where it was seen by more than half a million people, again supported by our fantastic volunteers.

Marking our own centenary in a year already brimming with major battle commemorations was always ambitious. But it was particularly challenging at a time when the Commission had chosen to make two major changes to the way in which we operate, setting a new course for our second century.

The first was our move to a conservation-based approach to maintaining our built heritage. Unlike most heritage organisations which took on ancient buildings to manage, the Commission of course just carried on managing the – then modern- structures it had designed and built. Now, 100 years on, it is time to ensure they are managed in a way which genuinely reflects their significance, and using the best techniques and skills to ensure the longevity of the buildings. It means using the right materials, and wherever possible, conserving the original fabric of the structure - which we are finding takes time, but saves money. This approach also brings other benefits. It has led to us achieving significant grant funding from the Government of Flanders, and better protection for our sites as other Governments also recognise their historic significance.

The second major departure was a new focus on the commemorative element of our charter commitment. The Commission’s centenary vision, and our future strategy, is about engagement with the public as well as simply caring for the sites; ensuring that people come and visit, and  learn about the people we commemorate – making remembrance far more meaningful. With the opening of our first information centre in Ypres, the launch of the intern guide scheme, our new website, and finally the launch of our sister charity, we’re making sure the memory of those we care for remains true for future generations.

All this does not just happen. The team across the world have been remarkable in embracing this new way of working, and in getting involved with the centenary; they have worked incredibly hard to do all this, as well as the day job. I’d like to say a massive thank you to them all.

We all look forward to welcoming you to our sites in the New Year."

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