Title: THIEPVAL MEMORIAL TO THE MISSING OF THE SOMME
Authors: Sir Edwin Lutyens, Imperial War Graves Commission
Location: Thiepval, Somme, France
Year complete: 1932
Description: Monumental arch inscribed with the 72,000 names of missing or unidentified soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Somme between 1915 and 1918.
Beginning in 1915, a series of battles began in the Somme region of the Nord de France, right along the Western Front of WWI. Through 1918, the battles caused the mass destruction of towns and countryside alongside great losses of life.
Due to the nature of trench warfare, which was new to WWI and fought in terrible, dirty, and dangerous conditions, many of those who died were unable to be identified and given a proper military funeral and buried unknown.
The Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission or CWGC) was established in 1917 by Royal Charter with the intent of building cemeteries for the dead of WWI (and later WWII) and honoring their services to the United Kingdom.
Lutyens, a prominent British architect of the early 20th Century and member of the CWGC, designed the memorial with the intent of making a place for the dead and memorializing the devastation of war rather than building over it.
The memorial was dedicated in 1932 by Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) and the President of France Albert Lebrun.
The memorial, a brick monumental arch, rises 180ft above a hilltop in the countryside, each of its 16 piers inscribed with the names of 72,000 missing or unidentified British and French soldiers, 90% of whom died between July and November of 1916.
Looking to the ruins of Notre Dame de Brebières in nearby town of Albert, Lutyens was inspired by the war-ravaged remains of towns and cities and used the bombed form of a church as the basis for the memorial. This style of salvage rather than reconstruction created a monument that preserved the destruction and imagery of post-war Europe. Where cities and towns were rebuilt (in some cases, identical to their pre-war appearance) for the living, the memorial memorialized the destruction of war for the dead.
Each arch springs from the same level of the keystone of the preceding arch, creating a primary east-west and secondary north-south monumental arch. Laurels encompass the names of the separate battles that occurred in the Somme. In the center rests a Stone of Remembrance, which Lutyens designed for the CWGC, and is placed at any cemetery that holds more than 1000 war graves.
- Scully, Vincent. Architecture: The Natural and the Manmade. p.356-366. St. Martin’s Press. New York. 1991.