School groups are being encouraged to visit the new Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Visitor Centre which opened last month at the battlefields of Northern France.
For the first time, visitors to the battlefields can gain a fascinating insight into the behind the scenes work that makes remembrance of the 1.7 million Commonwealth war dead possible.
The CWGC Experience is a unique new visitor attraction at the centre of the First World War battlefields. It shines a light on the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the organisation at the heart of remembrance of the war dead.
It gives students an intimate look behind the scenes at the teams who still work painstakingly to care for the fallen. From the story of how they still recover and rebury the dead today, to the skilled artisan craftsmen at work maintaining the world's most impressive and recognisable monuments and memorials.
Visitors will take a self-guided tour, lasting approximately 45 minutes to an hour with a free audio guide available. At various points on the tour, visitors can pause and see into the areas covering specific aspects of the CWGC’s work. This can include headstone production, carpentry, blacksmiths or maintenance teams, all before moving to one of the most moving elements of the tour, the recovery and reburial of the war dead.
The centre aims to provide a greater understanding of the organisation’s work commemorating the 1.7 million men and women who died during the two World Wars.
Although searching of the battlefields ended shortly after the two World Wars, each year, CWGC’s officers find discoveries, recovering and recording every detail and item that might reveal the identity of an individual. In recent years, the numbers of discoveries has increased as towns and cities expand into what were once battlefields, currently averaging at 40 such cases a year.
Following detailed investigation by the CWGC’s member governments, each person, whether known or unknown, is given a burial with full honours in the most appropriate CWGC cemetery, so that comrades who served and died together are buried and remembered together. Recovery and reburial is just one aspect of the new centre.
For the first time, visitors will be able to see the Commission’s team of skilled craftsman at work. Taking a tour of their workshops and observing them as they continue their century-long task of caring for some of the world’s most impressive and recognisable monuments and memorials.
More people are visiting the cemeteries and memorials than ever before. Yet for many visitors, how those cemeteries came to exist, their significance in our remembrance of the war dead and the story of who cares for them, is not well known.
The CWGC Experience changes that, giving visitors of all ages a new glimpse into the workings of remembrance. The centre brings to life fascinating stories of remembrance, helping your students look upon the cemeteries and memorials in a new light.
From the work of the world’s largest gardening organisation, mowing the equivalent of 1,000 football pitches every week, to re-engraving a single headstone to ensure the name of a brave serviceman or woman is remembered. Visitors will hear from the staff themselves about what they do to make these special places and keep remembrance of the war dead alive.
If you are interested in visiting the new Commonwealth War Graves visitor centre on your next History trip, contact a member of our team for more details.