The Twentieth Century Society

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Click to see full size Photo © John East
Photo © John East
Photo © John East

War memorials

France: Vendresse British Cemetery

Architect: Sir Edwin Lutyens
Owners: Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Location: Anise, France

The Vendresse British Cemetery contains 667 burials which were gathered from nearby cemeteries and from the battlefield. The Principal Architect was Sir Edwin Lutyens, the Assistant Architect John Reginald Truelove. A small stone shelter is placed axially opposite the standard Cross of Sacrifice (by Sir Reginald Blomfield). It is worth pausing to contrast this typical Imperial War Graves Commission cemetery with those of the other fighting powers. It was the British policy to have many small war cemeteries rather than the huge concentrated burial grounds which the French favoured and the Germans adopted by necessity. It was also the (controversial) British policy to have secular headstones rather than crosses to mark the graves. This cemetery also exemplifies the British emphasis on planting and landscaping which also characterises the German war cemeteries but which is almost entirely lacking in the French necropolises. As in the French and American cemeteries, the gravestones at Vendresse are white – which makes a strong contrast with the dark stone and granites used by the Germans, who were subject to severe restrictions imposed by the French in the designing of their cemeteries. As Alexandre Niess notes in the recent Itinéraires du Patrimoine guide to the war cemeteries and memorials of the Marne, it was “in this spirit that the graves of German soldiers were not surmounted by a white cross or headstone like those of the Allies. In effect, white, the colour of purity and peace, was refused to the defeated Germans, who were considered as aggressors and barbarians by the propaganda of the time”. On the other hand, it is worth recalling what Käthe Kollwitz wrote when installing her sculptures of ‘The Mourning Parents’ at Roggevelde in 1932: “The British and Belgian cemeteries seem brighter, in a certain sense more cheerful and cosy, more familiar than the German cemeteries. I prefer the German ones. The war was not a pleasant affair; it isn’t seemly to prettify with flowers the mass deaths of all these young men. A war cemetery ought to be sombre…”

Gavin Stamp

Commonwealth War Graves Commission 

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