The British World War I Memorial in Arras

War Cemetery and Moving Memorial

arrasmemorial
British World War I Memorial at Arras. © Cituation et Ensemble

The British Memorial

In the western part of Arras, the British Memorial is a quietly impressive monument. It was set up in 1916 as part of the already existing French cemetery. After the war, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission brought the other cemeteries in Arras to create this one memorial. It has 2,652 tombs within its walls.

It also commemorates 35,942 soldiers missing from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who had no known grave.

Arras was at the center of the battles over the coal fields of Artois and countless numbers of young men, often under the age of 18, died and were never identified. The memorial was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, one of the three architects in charge of the design and building of the British and Commonwealth War Graves Cemeteries, along with Sir Herbert Baker, and Sir Reginald Blomfield.

There is also a monument dedicated to the Royal Flying Corps, commemorating 991 airmen with no known grave.

World War I Cemetery Design

Where a cemetery has more than 40 graves, you will see the Cross of Sacrifice, designed by Blomfield. It’s a simple cross with a bronze broadsword on its face, set on an octagonal base. Where a cemetery has more than 1000 burials there will also be a Stone of Remembrance, designed by Edwin Lutyens, to commemorate those of all faiths –- and those with no faith. The structure was based on the Parthenon, and was deliberately designed to keep it free of any shape that might associate it with any particular religion.

British and Commonwealth cemeteries differ from their French and German counterparts in another way as well. The planting of flowers and herbs became an integral part of the design. The original idea was to create a beautiful and peaceful environment for visitors. Sir Edwin Lutyens brought in Gertrude Jekyll with whom he had worked closely on other architectural projects.

Taking traditional cottage garden plants and roses as her starting point, she designed a simple, but emotive planting scheme, which brought memories of Britain to the war cemeteries in France. So you will see floribunda roses and herbaceous perennials, as well as herbs like thyme growing beside the graves. Only dwarf varities or low-growing plants were used, allowing the inscriptions to be seen.

Rudyard Kipling and World War I

One other name associated with British war cemeteries is Rudyard Kipling. The writer, like many of his fellow countrymen, was an ardent supporter of the war. So much so that he helped his son Jack into the Irish Guards through his influence with the commander-in-chief of the British Army. Without this, Jack, who had been rejected on the grounds of bad eyesight, would not have gone to war. Nor would he have been killed by a shell in the battle of Loos two days after his recruitment. He was buried somewhere without being identified and his father began a life-long search for his body. But that is another story.

If any question why we died
Tell them, because our fathers lied
” Rudyard Kipling wrote after Jack's death.

In response to his son’s death, Kipling became an opponent of the war.

He joined the newly formed Imperial War Graves Commission (that became today’s Commonwealth war Graves Commission). He selected the biblical phrase Their Name Liveth For Everymore which you’ll see on the Stones of Remembrance. He also suggested the phrase Known unto God for the gravestones of unidentified soldiers.

Practical Information

British Memorial
Faubourg d'Amiens Cemetery
Blvd du General de Gaulle
Open Dawn to dusk

More World War I Memorials in the Region

With the brunt of World War I in this part of France, you drive past endless small and large military cemeteries, their graves in precise military style. There are also French and German cemeteries here, which have a very different feel to them, as well as large American and Canadian memorials and cemeteries.