This is the artist book version of When War is Over, printed in an edition of three, and hand bound. The published version is released by Dewi Lewis in Feb 2016. Signed copes are available direct from this site, email email@example.com to place an order.
Book Introduction, Daniel Alexander, Nov. 2014
The 1.7 million Commonwealth War dead from the First and Second World Wars are commemorated individually and by name, on graves and memorials in 153 countries throughout the world. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, formerly known as the Imperial War Graves Commission, is responsible for the up keep of these 2,500 cemeteries, 21,000 other burial grounds and 200 memorials to the missing. The aim of the Commission is to remember the dead in perpetuity through the design, creation and maintenance of these cemeteries and memorials.
The story of the Commission is one of singular vision and design master planning, driven by Fabian Ware, a former school teacher and newspaper editor, and Frederic Kenyon, director of the British Museum. Ware had gone to France in September 1914 to work for the British Red Cross and by 1915 had established a Graves Registration Unit, ‘responsible for marking and reporting burials to headquarters, tracking down and verifying old graves, collating daily returns from chaplains, units and hospitals, and finally preparing and erecting wooden crosses with their machine-punched metal identification plates.’ (Hare, 2014, P55). By 1917 he had established the Imperial War Graves Commission with a vastly expanded remit of commemorating all of the Empire’s war dead. Kenyon was appointed to chair the artistic advisory board and to bring coherence to the competing ideas of the principal architects that had been commissioned to design the cemeteries.
In 1918 Kenyon submitted a report to the Commission titled ‘War Graves, How The Cemeteries Abroad will be Designed’. The key principle Kenyon outlined was Equality of Treatment stating ‘what was done for one should be done for all’. In practical terms this meant a ban on the repatriation of bodies and the use of a consistent headstone design for all burials. The justification for this was based on a concern that if families put up their own monuments ‘the total result would be a few good but many bad with a total want of congruity and uniformity… the whole sense of comradeship and common service would be lost’.
These principles were challenged in a debate in the House of Commons on 4th May 1920 with a number of MP’s arguing against the ban on repatriation, the use of the proposed headstone instead of a cruciform design, and the ban on individual memorials. Elements of this debate questioned the nature and purpose of a designed, artistic memorial, and revealed some of the tensions inherent in the Commission’s aim to commemorate the individual through the uniform treatment of the many. Viscount Wolmer stated ‘There will be two classes of people who will visit these graveyards: there will be the idle tourists in the first place, and secondly there will be the bereaved relatives. Are you going to consider the feelings of the bereaved relatives or the artistic susceptibilities of the casual tourist’ he went on to argue that ‘There is an absolute distinction between uniformity and equality, and, indeed, an antagonism between them, which those who support the attitude of the War Graves Commission almost entirely miss.’ The house voted in favour of the Commission and Kenyon’s design plan was implemented.
The Commission completed its programme of construction in 1938 and a year later War was declared again. By 1945 six hundred thousand names had been added to the Commission’s remit. A new phase of design, manufacture and construction took place and was completed in 1960. Throughout, Kenyon’s design plan provided the guiding principles.
One hundred years on from the start of WWI and approaching the hundred year anniversary of the establishment of the Imperial War Graves Commission and the cemeteries and memorials appear pristine, like new, showing none of the signs of time passing that the church or public graveyard displays. The Commission’s aim to remember the names of the dead in perpetuity has created an international industry of administrators, quarrymen, stone cutters and gardeners who respond to queries from relatives, update records, tend to the landscape and repair or replace worn and damaged headstones. Currently 22,000 headstones are replaced each year with 80 - 90 stones being engraved each day.
This maintenance takes place in countries around the world; in some, cemeteries have been damaged or destroyed as the result of subsequent wars, in these cases the Commission waits till it can gain access and then repairs and rebuilds. In 2009 the Commission designed and built a new cemetery for 250 WWI soldiers whose bodies were discovered in a mass grave in Northern France. DNA testing and artifactual evidence has enabled the identification of 155 of these bodies, whose graves now have a named headstone, and an epitaph written by relatives several generations removed from the individual buried.
Within this memorialisation the headstones and memorial panels themselves have a life span, travelling from the quarry, to cutting machine, to cemetery or memorial wall, then to skip; replaced by a fresh stone, starting the cycle again. This ongoing maintenance of the cemeteries and memorials has created a form of living memorial, continually regenerating.