The commonwealth war graves commission has launched an online exhibition about how it revolutionised military memorials
‘Shaping Our Sorrow’ explores the ways in which the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) sought to capture the shared grief of the British Empire in the aftermath of WWI. The commission used a visionary combination of timeless architecture, subtle design and poignant words to achieve this.
The online exhibition features previously unseen archive material, including photographs, heartbreaking personal letters, film, original architectural drawings and plans of the earliest CWGC cemeteries and memorials. Structured around the five stages of grief, the exhibition gives a unique insight into the difficult and often-controversial decisions that helped to shape remembrance as we know it today. Individuals highlighted include famous figures like Rudyard Kipling but also grieving mothers who wrote to the commission, such as Sarah Smith, who lobbied the CWGC’S president Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII).
Andrew Fetherston, chief archivist at the CWGC, says, “As the First World War came to an end, it was just the start of the monumental task of honouring the dead. Our rituals of remembrance are too often taken for granted, but this exhibition is a stark reminder that commemorating 1 million people equally, regardless of class or rank, was unprecedented and often very controversial. We’re excited to share our fascinating archive collection, which casts fresh light on the creation of our iconic war cemeteries and memorials.”
A prospective drawing for Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme RIGHT: Items in the exhibition include George V’s passport, which was issued for his battlefield pilgrimage in 1920. His surname is simply listed as “The King”