THE CONCEPT OF THE VISITOR CENTRE
The "CAF Thiepval
Project" was the working title of the British end of the Franco-British
partnership that has created a visitor centre at Thiepval. The French
partner was the Conseil Général de la Somme. The Charities Aid Foundation
was the UK charitable fund administrator.
Until the opening of
the Centre in 2004 there was nothing at Thiepval to tell visitors,
especially the large numbers of school children, what had happened on the
Somme in 1916. All that they would have seen was a magnificent memorial
inscribed with over 72,000 names of British sailors and soldiers who
disappeared on a battlefield, and the graves of 300 French and 300 British
soldiers - nothing about the other 54,000 British soldiers who have named graves
in the area from the same battle and nearly 300,000 wounded from this
series of battles, nothing
about why they were there, nothing about Kitchener's Army and the Pals
Battalions - no context. As simply as possible in three languages, the
Visitor Centre has been designed to correct this, so that visitors may now
leave with a greater understanding of the events of 1916 and
remember the sacrifice and the historical context in
to which it fits. There has been no attempt at "interpretation with
hindsight". The context also includes the
events of 1918 when a fearful reverse was turned into the hundred days
advance to the Armistice.
The Thiepval Memorial
is not only a memorial to the UK and South African Missing, but also an
Anglo-French battle memorial to the 1916 battles of the Somme. Due regard
has been given to the activities of our gallant French allies on the
southern part of the line.
As was the intention
from the outset, the concept of the Visitor Centre was not to add yet
another memorial to this already much visited and hallowed site, but to
provide a discreet building where visitors could not only find historical
information about Thiepval and what it represents, but also rest, reflect
and find refreshment and associated facilities in a suitable setting. One
result of the building of the centre is that the Monument itself may now
be a little quieter with fewer cars and buses parked in the Lutyens half
July 1998 Sir Frank Sanderson attended his first Thiepval Ceremony
and discussed the idea of a visitor centre with Colonel Piers Storie-Pugh
of Remembrance Travel, Royal British Legion, Mike Johnson Director
of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
in France and Brigadier Andrew Gadsby
the then Military Attaché at the British Embassy in Paris.
After searching for a way forward it was
soon realised that the only solution was to organise a joint effort with
the French authorities on the basis that funds would be raised in the UK.
An excellent start was made at a meeting in Amiens with Sénateur Fernand Demilly,
then Président du Conseil Général of the Département of the Somme and Madame Geneviève Potié MBE, the Mayor of Thiepval. The Sénateur generously offered not only to match
any funds raised in the UK, but also to organise the construction and to
run the visitor centre. This arrangement was warmly welcomed by the
Brigadier Andrew Gadsby from the Embassy took a personal interest and
very soon Sir Michael Jay, the Ambassador at that time, became a
Patron. Shortly afterwards HRH The Duke of Kent agreed to become
Patron. The Charities Aid Foundation (Michael Brophy) kindly
offered the management skills and charitable status that are so important
to a project of this significance. Subsequently Sir Michael Jay moved to
become Permanent Under Secretary of State at the Foreign Office and
Commonwealth in London and Sir John Holmes the new Ambassador in
Paris became the third Patron.
fundraising committee under the umbrella of The Charities Aid Foundation came into being and fundraising began in
supported by our three Patrons.
HRH The Duke of Kent KCMG GCVO ADC
Sir Michael Jay KCMG The Permanent Under Secretary Foreign and
Sir John Holmes GCVO KCB HM Ambassador to France
committee included the following people:
Sir Frank Sanderson Bt. OBE Chairman
Colonel Piers Storie-Pugh OBE TD DL Royal British Legion,
Michael Barker Lutyens Trust
Helen McPhail Vice Chairman, Wilfred Owen Association
Sir Peter Graham KCB CBE The Gordon Highlanders Museum
Professor Richard Holmes CBE TD JP
Robin Ollington FRSA Newsletters
Carol Nubbert Durand Group Keeper of donor records
Clive Priestley CB, Secretary
Brigadier Andrew Gadsby ADC, Brigadier
Roy Ratazzi CBE and Brigadier Tim Gregson MBE consecutive Military Attachés, British Embassy,
Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Mather CVO OBE Opening Ceremony.
donations were accompanied by letters mentioning the names of relatives
who fell or served in the war and all this information has been carefully
collated and a book containing this information will be prepared and will
form part of the history of the Centre.
thousand donations were received and a full list is now "etched" on the
windows of the Centre. The list is also included in this website.
this time the Project newsletters mentioned some of the people
who had donated and helped the Project, and although it may be invidious
to pick out just a few names, the following were mentioned by name at the
time and may be of interest to readers of this site.
Robertson wrote from NATO to give his full support. Support was also
received from The Earl Haig, The Earl Kitchener, The
Viscount Ridley (a grandson of Edwin Lutyens and former Commonwealth
War Graves Commissioner), Sir Nicholas Hewitt of Pen and Sword
Books, Sir Robert Crawford Director of the Imperial War Museum,
Ian Robertson, of the National Army Museum,
Tonie and Valmai Holt the pioneers of modern battlefield
travel, the In-Pensioners of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, the late
Mr Douglas Roberts a 102 year-old veteran of the Somme, and Mr F
Ryder, the son of the late Robert Edward Ryder VC who won his
Victoria Cross during the capture of Thiepval near the site of the
Centre, and then continued to serve for many years in the Middlesex
Regiment, as did his son.
Trusts, Foundations, Commerce, Local and
Central Government and the EU provided the main part of the funds.
(through the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers) kindly started us off
with £10,000 and The Foreign and Commonwealth Office gave £40,000.
Within a short while a major benefactor generously gave £72,000,
a pound for every name inscribed on the Memorial, and later there was
another large personal donation of US$59,000.
were a multitude of generous donors including: HSBC, British
American Tobacco, Unilever, Shell International,
Consignia, also the Garfield Weston Trust who gave £40,000, the
Dulverton Trust who gave £25,000 and other Trusts including the
Colyer-Fergusson Charitable Trust, the Lindbury Trust, the
Lady Hind Trust, the Sir James Knott Trust, the Gosling
Trust, the Bernard Sunley Trust, the Hull and East Riding
Trust, the Robertson Trust, the MacRobert Trust, the
Trusthouse Charitable Foundation, and many other Trusts and
Foundations. We also received thousands of generous personal donations
including one from the Archbishop of
Canterbury and Mrs. Williams.
civic side many cities, towns and counties including the City of London,
the Cities of Aberdeen, Leeds and Portsmouth, the Borough
of Rugby and the Counties of Suffolk, Norfolk,
Renfrewshire, Surrey and Warwickshire have generously
made donations. East Sussex County Council helped us bid for
Interreg European Cross Border funds and their
Chairman attended the laying of the foundation stone.
Many Livery Companies of the City of London,
Association branches and Royal British Legion branches and the
In-Pensioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea supported the Project.
Alongside monetary donations vital assistance was given many devoted
experts in their fields: architectural, design and historical.
Michael Barker an architect representing the Lutyens Trust acted as
the unpaid architectural and design advisor, wrote the script and chose
the photographs for all the “memory” side of the exhibition. Brother
Nigel Cave who edits the Pen and Sword Battleground Europe books
kindly agreed to become the honorary historian and was greatly assisted by
Professor Peter Simkins of the Imperial War Museum and by
Michael Stedman. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission gave constant
assistance and their Directors in France, Mike Johnson and Tim
Reeves, and also Peter Craven
were ever on hand to
help us. Also in France Arlene King of the Canadian Department of
Veterans Affairs at the nearby Beaumont Hamel Memorial Park was alongside
with constant help and assistance.
Phillip Russell Vick landscape architect of enplan (Tunbridge
Wells) generously prepared plans and greatly assisted us on the
landscaping that has so successfully blended the French architects' superb
design into the countryside surrounding the Lutyens memorial.
Lieutenant Colonel Phillip Robinson and the Durand Group researched
the Stuttgart archives of the 26th Reserve Division to locate possible
German bunkers and not only surveyed
the site, but also supervised the all excavation works to ensure maximum respect
for this sensitive location.
France, Sénateur Fernand Demilly the Chairman of the Conseil
Général of the Somme and his successors Sénateurs
Alain Gest and Daniel Dubois were strong supporters and
Alain Petitjean the Joint Chief Executive of the Conseil Général gave
hours of his time to the Project. Madame Geneviève Potié, the Mayor of Thiepval,
and her husband not only made the land available, but were a
constant source of encouragement, ever looking
after the interests of the Project.
number of Regiments and Regimental Associations connected with the Battle
of the Somme have also sent donations. A group of REME men attached to the
Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, led by Staff Sergeant Colin
Lyons, undertook a sponsored bicycle ride from Tidworth to Thiepval and
raised over £5,000.
1-PWRR Arrival at Thiepval.
brave girls from Oundle school raised
over £6,000 through a sponsored bicycle ride from Verdun to Ypres, via
See Fundraising Events for details.
and The Really Useful Group put on a most impressive evening
music and film about the Great War
at the Haymarket Theatre
on Remembrance Sunday
See Fundraising Events for details.
EUROTUNNEL very kindly gave free travel for all the meetings in France,
which greatly assisted the finances.
allowed use of a whole train from Waterloo / Ashford to the Haute Somme
station for the opening ceremony at an exceedingly reasonable
many other people, too numerous to mention in this space, gave support,
arranged publicity, organised fundraising and made donations. The
resulting Centre is their monument. This website, donated by Real Fx, is
now being kept up to date by Gordon Fraser
http://www.1canhelp.com/ ) and his
faithful hound Seamus.
FUNDING IN EUROS as
at 31st December 2005
based on a 0.72 / 1.39 rate of exchange.
de la Somme
exhibition and other items
Following the offer by
the Conseil Général of the Somme to match
funds raised in the UK, we knew that we were well on the way to success.
A plan was developed for each side to raise
£300,000 and this was soon increased to £400,000 to which would be added
the EU grants. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office £40,000 contribution
was designed to be 10% of the British £400,000. On the building side all
payments and all construction matters were administered by the Conseil
Général, and the Thiepval Project simply paid half the cost. As the
educational exhibition was primarily a British history intended for
British visitors, it was agreed that the Thiepval Project should be
wholly responsible for this part of the project and have the exhibition
designed and manufactured in the UK. The Conseil Général agreed to man
the Centre and meet all the running costs in the future; this they are
doing through their excellent Historial de la Grande Guerre (museum).
Being financially responsible for the
Educational exhibition meant that the Thiepval Project needed to raise yet
further funds and the Conseil Général suggested that we should apply to
the Government Office of the South East in Guildford for an Interreg IIIA
Cross Border EU grant. Guided by our French friends and with assistance
from the East Sussex County Council, the forms were filled in and we
received a £200,000 grant that was paid over in a most customer-friendly
manner. The Conseil Général also applied for and received EU FEDER grants
in respect of the total cost of the building that included the 50% funded
by the Thiepval Project. Additionally the Conseil Général agreed to pay
all the VAT; however after a year or so they should have been able to recover the
majority of this tax.
Yet further expenses meant that Conseil
Général had now reached the limit of their funding possibilities, so
further necessary expenses, such as the extra landscaping necessary to blend in the Centre
with the Lutyens Memorial skyline and the purchase of the additional land
needed for this purpose, were paid for by the generous Donors to the
The final figure raised by the CAF Thiepval
Project, mainly in the UK, was £710,000 plus the £200,000 EU grant from
GOSE in Guildford.
donations have been recorded and a list "etched" onto the windows at the
Centre. A list is also included in this website.
PROGRESS TOWARDS A ROYAL OPENING
His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent
had visited Thiepval on 16th November 2000 in order to meet
our French partners and to give our joint efforts his seal of
approval. This was just over two years after the idea of
building a Centre had been conceived and as it turned out
there were nearly another four years to go until his next
visit to officially open centre.
Looking back it is difficult to realise that the
process took so long; everybody was working so hard that the time seemed
to fly by, but to give some appreciation of the timetable as it finally
worked out - here are some dates:
With the participation of Peter Craven of the
Commonwealth War Graves Commission a small group from the Property
Department of the Conseil Général of
the Somme arranged for a competition for an architect to design the
building. Forty answers were received, mainly from France and the UK. Two
meetings took place in Amiens, firstly to choose the four finalists, (two
of whom were British) who were the engaged to produce plans, and secondly
to select the winner. In November 2001 a joint Conseil Général
/ Thiepval Project jury that included Michael Barker, Paul
Lutyens (a nephew of Sir Edwin with an architectural practice in
Paris), Mike Johnson of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and
Sir Frank Sanderson selected Plan01, a Paris based architect
to amplify his plans and to build the Centre under the overall management
of the Works Department of the Conseil Général
de la Somme. (See ARCHITECT, below) The very good runners-up were
Nicholas Hare Architects of London; the other two finalists were Avery
Associates of London and Terre Neuve of Paris.
In March 2002 Graham Simpson Design consultants (See
DESIGNER, below) was appointed to design the educational content of the
Centre and in June 2002 Brother Nigel Cave bravely agreed to become
the lead historian. After a meeting with Stephan Audoine-Rouseau
his French counterpart in November, the work on the displays and the
history text accelerated. This work continued unabated for fifteen months
at which stage Nigel Cave and Michael Barker started on the text of the
Visitor Centre guidebook. (See HISTORIANS, below)
It had been mutually agreed
that the Thiepval visitor centre
history would concentrate on military aspects, plus mourning / remembrance
and Lutyens, leaving the Historial to continue with their excellent wider
general and social history of the Great War.
The Thiepval Project had always been
conscious of the intrusive nature of any earthmoving on the battlefields
and considered that would be especially so at Thiepval. The Durand Group
(See below) carefully surveyed the land and together with the Commonwealth
War Graves Commission prepared a protocol that the
Conseil Général gave
to all their contractors. The Durand group then attended all the earth
movements and prepared a full detailed report. (See below). It was also
arranged that Priests from the three Nations should attend the site prior
to any works taking place. It was just below where the priests had been
standing that the remains of six Germans were found; there was
unfortunately no personal identification and the remains were respectfully
removed in small coffins by the Sépultures Militaires, taken to the
Commonweal War Graves Commission morgue and then taken in charge by the
Kriegsgräberfürsorge. Otherwise the land was
virtually clean apart from the usual harvest of exploded and unexploded
shells including one a massive 15″ Royal Naval shell; no barbed wire or
usual trench and battlefield debris. The place had been thoroughly cleaned
at the time of the building of the Memorial.
Meanwhile all the architectural, planning and
preparatory work was continuing on the Somme with Michael Barker
and Frank Sanderson attending numerous meetings chaired by Alain
Petitjean. In the early summer of 2003 the combined tenders for the
building and earthmoving were advertised, but not enough interest was
created at the price budgeted for and this caused delay. The tender was
then split into two parts, still within the same overall budget, and
Appia Somme began preliminary earth moving in July 2003. In
2003 there was an official laying of a foundation stone by Sénateur
Fernand Demilly and Sir Frank Sanderson in the presence
of the Mayor, Madame Geneviève Potié MBE and Councillor Roger
Thomas, Chairman of the East Sussex County Council and in November
2003 Appia deepened their excavations and Léon Grosse commenced the
construction of the sunken building. It was fortunate that the weather
remained relatively dry during the winter and it was highly commendable
that the building was ready for the public to enter on 1st July 2004. All
in less than seven and a half months from the first foundations going in.
In February 2004, before the final earth moving was due
to take place, it was noticed that the bus park was too near ground level
and in the direct line of sight between visitors arriving past the Church and
the top of the Memorial. The Conseil Général
agreed that the Thiepval Project could fund the extra expense of lowering
the buses and creating the type of landscape that Lutyens might have
designed. Philip Russel-Vick of enplan of Tunbridge
Wells, generously agreed to work with Plan01 on this
feature, and the end result has been commended by all. It really does
look as if the present landscape has been there for ever and that
intelligent use has been made of an existing natural hollow in which to place the
The Royal opening ceremony
took place on Monday
27th September, the eighty-eighth anniversary of the day that the 18th
Division finally forced the remnants of the 26th (Würtemburg) Division out
of the eastern edge of the village that they had occupied for two years
less one day.
All the arrangements were made by Lieutenant Colonel
Anthony Mather who had great experience of arranging Royal events.
Yet again the Thiepval Project had attracted the top person in the field.
Not only did he mastermind the most perfect ceremony, but also had his own
Regiment, the Grenadier Guards provide a band and Guardsmen to
accompany each carriage on the train and then on each bus that drove with
police escort from the TGV railway station to Thiepval. The guest list was
impressive, all Donors having been invited. Eurostar generously offered
the special Entente Cordiale train that had carried HM The Queen to Paris,
for use by the Thiepval Project for a whole day at an exceedingly
reasonable price and 350 Donors boarded at Waterloo and Ashford for an
impressive day outing.
Those on board with HRH The Duke of Kent
included, The Earl Haig who had been at the unveiling ceremony of
the Memorial on 1st August 1932 as a special guest of HRH The
Prince of Wales (his father the Field Marshall and first Earl having died
The Earl Kitchener, The Viscount Ridley, a grandson of
Sir Edwin Lutyens and a former Commonwealth War Graves Commissioner,
Richard Kellaway, Director-General of the Commonwealth War
Graves Commission, Robert Crawford, Director-General of the
Imperial War Museum and many many others including the In-Pensioners
of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
Others travelled to Thiepval independently and these
included Sir John Holmes HM Ambassador to France, HRH The Herzog
of Würtemburg (whose helicopter unfortunately could not land due to
low cloud) the Military Attachés from many Commonwealth countries, and
again many Donors. Also present was the Thetford Grammar School choir,
who partnered by the band, providing appropriate music throughout the
The ceremony took place on alongside the Visitor Centre
on French territory and the Conseil Général
were the hosts in a large tent. The French party was led by the Préfet de
région Monsieur Pierre Mirabeau and Sénateur Pierre Dubois
the President du Conseil Général de
la Somme. Also present were Madame Claude Dulamont the Sous Préfète
who had been in charge of the Royal visit arrangements, Sénateur Alain
Gest and Sénateur Fernand Demilly and the Mayor of Thiepval
Madame Geneviève Potié and Alain Petitjean.
The cutting of the ribbon was performed by HRH and M.
Mirabeau assisted by Émilie Poupard and Jonty Leggett whose
French and British great uncles Jean-Baptiste Pasquier and
Charles Skey had both been Killed in Action near Thiepval.
Emilie and Jonty
After the opening ceremony HRH and the
Préfet laid a joint Franco-British wreath at the Great War
Stone (designed by Lutyens) under the memorial. (For better
descriptions of the opening ceremony see "FINAL NEWSLETTER",
and "PHOTOGRAPHS" )
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When this Project commenced it was assumed that telling
of the history of the great battle would be one of the more
straightforward items on the agenda. The general feeling was that the
history of the battle should be told in a form that would be recognisable
to the men who fought, and that as much as possible it
should be the story of individual men rather than a list of impersonal
It was only when we had our first history meeting with
our French partners that we realised that there is more than one way of
recounting history. Our own ideas inevitably led to a rather detailed
story that would allow a visitor to understand how their grandfather's
actions on a given day fitted into the flow of the Battle of the Somme.
This was considered by some at the meeting to be a rather old fashioned
approach in an era when few veterans were still around and Europe was now
more interested in how the Nations had moved on from the 'Century of World
Wars'. The solution to this problem, suggested by the French Project
Leader, was that the history exhibition should become an entirely British
affair and be funded, designed, written and constructed in the UK and
shipped over to Thiepval.
It was mutually agreed
that the history in Thiepval visitor
centre should concentrate on the military aspects, plus mourning /
remembrance and Lutyens, leaving the Historial to continue with their
existing excellent wider general and social history of the Great War.
This proved to be an inspired solution, but our next
task was to find some volunteer British historians with the time and
energy to devote to what turned out to be a considerable undertaking.
As had happened before with the Thiepval
Project, a team of brave volunteers came together, and working closely
with Cube3, the Exhibition Designers, produced a clear and concise history
that has been widely acclaimed. It presents the facts of the Battle, and
places the Battle into the chronology of the Great War. It makes plain
that this was a Franco-British coalition battle and also gives information
on the German army. Above all it tries to make this the story of the men
who were embroiled in these terrible events. The story as told at Thiepval
finishes at the Armistice and does not draw conclusions; as The Duke of
Kent said in his speech at the opening ceremony - that task is left to the
Brother Nigel Cave, the editor of
the Battleground Europe series (he also leads the Western Front
Association prayers at the Cenotaph on 11th November) kindly
assumed the lead role and was strongly supported by Professor Peter
Simkins, recently retired from the position of Senior Historian at the
Imperial War Museum. Michael Stedman also participated in this
team and additionally was much involved with the maps and contemporary
photography, including the Somme panoramas. Michael Barker who
wrote all the non-military text was in constant attendance. Advice was
also given by Professor Richard Holmes, Colonel Jack Sheldon,
Clive Priestley the Secretary to the Fundraising Committee, Helen
McPhail and others.
Sir Robert Crawford the Director-General
of the Imperial War Museum generously put the resources of the
museum at the disposal of the Project and nearly all the photographs in
the exhibition and the film footage comes from that source.
Caroline Fontaine of the Centre de recherches de
l'Historial also assisted and provided photographs.
Nigel Cave, Peter Simkins and Michael Stedman gave days
of their time condensing the panel texts. This was necessary because they
had to be re-produced in three languages and space was limited. The three
films were very much the work of Peter Simkins and Michael Stedman. The
military section of the guidebook was written by Nigel Cave, with
assistance from Peter Simkins and the Lutyens and Memory sections were
written by Michael Barker.
The emphasis on the men was greatly assisted by the use
of six hundred photographs of the Missing. These were selected from a
collection being put together by Ken and Pam Linge
that is growing by the day as they find
photographs and details of more men.
ARCHITECT AND BUILDING
THE ARCHITECT: PLAN01, PARIS
The Département of the
Somme advertised throughout Europe for architects interested in competing
for building the Centre. Forty applicants came forward. The Conseil
général then set up a jury and invited Paul Lutyens, a great nephew
of Sir Edwin, who has an architectural practice in Paris, Michael
Barker a British architect representing the Lutyens Trust, the Mayor
of Thiepval and Frank Sanderson to serve on it. The other members
of the jury were members of the Somme Planning Committee.
The preparatory work
in assembling the documents for this for this jury was done by three
members of the Property Department of the
Somme plus Peter Craven of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The forty applicants
were reduced down to four, of whom two were British. These four were then
engaged to produce plans.
The final vote of the
jury took place in November 2001 in Amiens and the choice fell on an
architectural practice based in Paris - PLAN 01. The very good
runner-up was a British architect, but unfortunately, probably due to the
expenses of running a project from London, his fees were much higher than
his French rival.
"PLAN 01 consists of a
group of four architectural practices based in Paris. They work together
on projects of symbolic importance – such as the Thiepval Visitor Centre,
and a similar centre in the Vendée in western France.
The four practices
are: KOZ architectes, Bocabeille+Prego architectures, Atelier Du Pont and
Phileas. They all work closely with associated technical partners.
The lead practice for
the Thiepval Visitor Centre was KOZ who had recently completed a
fire station at Tours in the Loire valley and a wooden villa on the
Atlantic coast near Bordeaux. Other recent works by the Group include the
French embassy in the Cape Verde Islands, the French ambassador’s
residence in Kingston, Jamaica, the renovation of the Versailles Congress
Hall and the Biotechnology University near the
harbour in Boulogne."
The two main architects dealing personally
with the Thiepval Project were Nicolas Ziesel and Dominique Vity.
"The surroundings of
the Visitor Centre were planned by P&L,
landscape designers, assisted by Enplan of Tunbridge
Wells. The feeling of transparency through the Centre towards the wooded
canopy beyond was developed by RFR, structural
engineers, who designed the glass halls of the Roissy - Charles de Gaulle
airport. (Not the part that fell down!) Delta Fluides, the utility
engineers who had worked on a new school in Peronne,
"concentrated on user comfort."
The building, built by Leon Grosse, is a
blend of traditional and modernist
design has attempted to be a tribute to Lutyens which
avoids the risk of pastiche.
The massive brick ramparts extend the length of the north end of the
building and then cross though the interior of the building to the other
side. The south end of the building which contains the exhibition, is a
simple glass enclosed area that gives maximum scope to the exhibition
The bricks used are an exact copy of the "small French pink bricks"
employed by Lutyens on his memorial and are laid in the same pattern; the
locating and purchasing of these special bricks was arranged through the
Commonwealth War Graves Commission who also donated some Accrington bricks
for the terrace that were left over from the refacing of the memorial
twenty years ago.
The Centre is sunk
into the ground and is approached by sloping walkways (trenches?) so as to
minimise the impact on the Somme landscape and the Lutyens memorial only
200 yards away . There are 200 m³ for exhibition space, 140 m³ of public
area including reception desk and shop and another 140 m³ for the services
and office space.
Many people were apprehensive concerning the locating of
a Visitor Centre near to the hallowed ground of the Memorial, but the
Plan01 building in its restrained sunken position and with the high
quality of its imaginative construction has been the cause of much
pleasure. As Richard Holmes said recently after taking
a high-level tour to
Thiepval " Even those who had previously been critical were wholly
enthusiastic, and this says much for the way the Project has been designed
and laid out"
This aerial picture shows the Centre in
DESIGNER AND THE EXHIBITION
THE DESIGNER: GRAHAM
SIMPSON DESIGN CONSULTANTS, LONDON (Cube3)
A short list of British exhibition
designers was prepared with the aid of the Imperial War Museum, and
candidates were invited to present portfolios of their work. After careful
study of their presentations and in consultation with the Conseil général
of the Somme, Graham Simpson Design Consultants were appointed as
the exhibition designers to the Project.
"Graham Simpson is a specialist in museum
and gallery design and project management, having worked in the past with
the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and The Science Museum
in London. He was joined on this project by M2 Graphic Design
who amongst other clients, had worked with the Design Museum and Urbis. The M2 team leaders were David Edgell,
Duncan Youel and Tony Lyons."
A separate joint company was formed for
this Project:- Cube3 Exhibitions Ltd.
cooperation with the historians and Michael Barker of the Lutyens
Trust, an impressive exhibition has been mounted with the text in three
languages. The main central area concentrates on the 1916 Battles of the
Somme, but there is also a unique set of 10 large panels and an
interactive map covering the period 1914 - 1918, so as to put the Somme
and 1916 into geographical and chronological perspective within the Great
War. One large panel also covers the events on the Somme in 1918, and the
whole of the west side of the exhibition is devoted to the way that the
Nations have remembered the events of the 1914 - 1918 war, including
panels on Civic Grief, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Sir Edwin
Lutyens and Reconstruction of the Somme after the war. A set of three
short films: 'The Somme in the Great War', 'Memory' and 'Thiepval' were
commissioned from Cube3/ M2 (Duncan
Youel) and are shown continuously in the
specially built audio-visual Theatre.
Please click on picture for larger plan, use back button in your
browser to return to this page
A guidebook to the exhibition was produced written by Nigel Cave and Michael Barker
with a second edition for the Centenary in 2014.
A very special effect has been created at the entrance
to the Centre by the large architectural model of the memorial made by
Andrew Ingham & Associates of London
and by a panel of six hundred photographs of men whose names are inscribed
on the memorial.
The research necessary for this panel is
part of an ongoing programme being undertaken by Ken and Pam Linge.
- Crucial support from the Department of the Somme.
One of the most
pleasing and important aspects of this project has been the
French Connection. This is especially so because 2004 was the
centenary of the Entente Cordiale.
Frank Sanderson first wrote to the then Mr. George Robertson at the MOD,
it was in the hope that the UK Government would take on the Project in the
same manner as the Canadian, Australian and South African Governments had
done with their visitor centres and Great War Memory in France. This was
not to be.
therefore good news indeed when, at a meeting of
Andrew Gadsby from the Embassy and Sir Frank Sanderson with Madame
Geneviève Potié MBE, the Mayor of Thiepval and Sénateur
Fernand Demilly (then Président of the Conseil général of the Somme),
the Sénateur suggested that the Conseil Général
de la Somme not only undertake the construction the Visitor Centre, but
also match pound for pound the £300,000 that the UK team were at that time
proposing to raise privately in the British Isles. The Sénateur
subsequently wrote to the Ambassador and received confirmation that the
British Government was very grateful and would have no objection to the
Département undertaking this Project.
The task of overseeing the whole of
the French effort was undertaken by Alain Petitjean the Joint
Chief Executive of the Conseil Général de la Somme, without whose devotion
the Project would never have been completed.
key offer was that the Département would apply for EU Regional funds and
it then subsequently suggested that the Département's Historial de la
Grande Guerre (museum) of Péronne should undertake the running of the
Centre. This was splendid news as the long term management of the Centre
by a knowledgeable and expert organisation was now guaranteed. We could
not have hoped for more and the Historial staff are now in residence
encouragement from Alain Petitjean the British end then applied for
Interreg IIIA cross-border EU funds from Guildford. The application was
The opening ceremony was also very
much a joint Franco-British affair, with all the local arrangements
being made by the Conseil Général who
were the hosts on 27th September 2004. The wider French arrangements for
the Royal visit were undertaken by the Sous Préfète in Péronne, Madame
It is the
French Connection at this Franco-British site that guarantees the future
of the venture. It would never have been possible to create a really
successful Centre without the active support of Sénateur Demilly
and his successors Sénateur Alain Gest and Sénateur Daniel
Dubois, and also Madame Geneviève Potié the Mayor. We are truly
indebted to them all and to the whole of the Départemental team.
Battle of the Somme commenced on the 132nd day of Verdun, and the
Franco-British cooperation evident at that time, was recreated in
miniature at Thiepval nearly ninety years later. Real proof that the
Entente Cordiale works at local level.
NATIONAL TRUST, CWGC & IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM
Because the Centre was to play
host to a large number of visitors each year it was essential
to give thought as to what would go on within the building and
the surrounding area, for this reason we consulted widely. The
Département of the Somme and their Historial de la Grande
are now managing the Centre and we are grateful to our friends
at the Imperial War Museum
the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
(who most kindly donated
some bricks left over from the refacing of the memorial) and
the National Trust
for all the assistance they provided. Our gratitude is also
due to Michael Barker of the Lutyens Trust for all his
architectural and exhibition work and advice and also to
Phillip Russell Vick of enplan of Tunbridge Wells for
the landscaping work he did for us.
THE DURAND GROUP
The Durand Group
www.durandgroup.org.uk (For Historical Research into
Subterranean Military Activities) is a voluntary mainly
British group representing a wide range of specialist skills.
It includes serving and retired military officers, historians,
specialists in Great War artefacts,
engineering, surveying, archaeology, construction and
several years they have been engaged on work to investigate the extensive
Great War tunnels and dugouts beneath the Canadian Vimy Memorial Site and
have investigated, and in some cases had to disarm, several large British
and French mines (one had 6,000 lb of explosive). They are now also
working at the Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park just north of
kindly assisted the Thiepval Visitor Centre and charted all available
information concerning German trenches and bunkers on the site of the
Centre. One of their members, a schoolmaster in Germany, researched the
Thiepval records of the 26th (Württemberg) Reserve Division. These records
survived the Second World War and are located in Stuttgart. They are
information was combined with British Military Engineers and Military
Staff records, Allied war trench maps, aerial photographs and all other
available information and marked out on plans of the site. Deep German
dugouts were shown near by, but deep drilling and subsequent excavations
failed to locate them. They had probably been filled in either during the
war or at the time of the building of the Memorial.
of this work Phillip Robinson arranged for a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)
survey of the land. Dr. Ken Hamilton of Bradford University kindly
undertook this task. With the aid of David Hedges a member of the Durand
Group and Carol Nubbert, our own keeper of donors
records, the whole of our plot was minutely surveyed. Their report agreed
with Phillip Robinson's forecast that the site would be just pulverised
battlefield with comparatively little war debris.
This was subsequently proved to be
correct and the professionals were amazed as to how clean our site was. We
this area was ‘super cleared’ at the time of the building of the Lutyens
Memorial. This is possibly where the Memorial construction HQ was
Apart from a considerable amount of shrapnel and the usual
harvest of exploded and unexploded shells, including one unexploded
howitzer shell fired by the Royal Marine Artillery,
the land was nearly clean; no barbed wire, no metal trench supports,
no battlefield debris.
We did however find the remains of six German soldiers, their
nationality being identified by remaining pieces of uniform and equipment.
The Remains were professionally removed by the French Sépultures
Militaires, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the
Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge.
We went to great lengths to make certain that full respect was show during
the earthmoving on this site and we are most grateful to the National
graves organisations, the contractors and the Durand Group for all their
work. Apart from the earth that had to be moved for construction or
landscaping purposes, no other earth was touched, and it remains
excavations Mike Hibberd, a member of the Durand Group and formally of
the Imperial War Museum or a colleague was on site at all times to
supervise digging and to log and label finds. The resulting report covers
each hour of each day that earth moving took place. To
view the report in Microsoft Word Format click here.
is also a copy at the centre.
Group members who attended excavations included Phillip Robinson, David
Hedges, Ian Jones, Jack Sheldon and also Taff Gillingham. Our sincere
thanks are due to these kind friends as well as to, Ken Hamilton and all
the Durand Group for all they have done to safeguard the military /
archaeological nature of this site.
Respect for the Dead and Missing has been our primary concern.
that is done of structure should be for all and for equality
of honour” Edwin Lutyens
As you approach Thiepval along the D73 the
towering shape of Lutyens's finest memorial is visible from
afar, riding the horizon and brooding over the landscape of
For the British, Thiepval - the Memorial to the Missing
- is perhaps one of the most familiar images of northern France, a complex
stepped pyramidal structure built of brick with some stone detailing and
pierced by a great arch with a series of intersecting smaller arches.
It carries the names of over 72,000 soldiers missing on
the Somme. Such a site, and the vast numbers of those who vanished mainly
between July and November 1916, demanded an equally vast solution. Lutyens
therefore employed both his aesthetic skills and mastery of geometry to
produce this haunting yet cathedral-like structure on which to record the
names of the fallen.
Built during the years 1927 - 1932, rising to a height
of 44.2 metres at its summit with a main arch 21.5 metres high by 10.5
metres wide, the red brick and Portland stone appear from different angles
to be sometimes solid, sometimes light and ethereal with, as has been
written “lofty arches where the souls of the lost fly like angels”
The Thiepval Project has been more than conscious that
any design for a Visitor Centre should not be an imitative pastiche of the
great original but rather an embodiment of the same intellectual and
aesthetic approach that was employed by Lutyens in his day.
SIR EDWIN LUTYENS OM KCIE PRA (1869 –
and most prolific architect since Christopher Wren, his career lasted more
than half a century from the reign of Queen Victoria, whose Empire spanned
the globe, until the Second World War when, before his death on New Year’s
Day 1944, he drew up plans for a National Theatre and the post-war
reconstruction of London.
Born in London, the
son of a retired soldier and animal artist, with little formal education
or architectural training he precociously established his own practice at
the age of nineteen. In the same year he met Gertrude Jekyll, artist and
celebrated garden designer, who became his mentor and with whom he had a
fertile collaboration which lasted several decades, creating sophisticated
vernacular country houses and beautifully planned and imaginatively
landscaped gardens, mainly in Surrey, including Munstead Wood for her in
1893. He married Lady Emily Lytton in 1897 by whom he had five children.
His work, while
romantic in inspiration became classical in discipline yet complex and
often abstract in design, always executed with excellent craftsmanship
using fine materials. From his British pavilion for the Universal
Exhibition in Paris in 1900, Lutyens went on to dominate the Edwardian era
as a builder of new country houses often for new fortunes, and developed a
personal ‘Georgian’ and ‘Queen Anne’ vernacular. With Heathcote in
Yorkshire built in 1906, he revealed himself as a great mannerist
With the decision
in 1911 of the new King and Emperor, George V, to transfer the capital of
the British Empire in India from Calcutta to Delhi, Lutyens became an
imperial architect. With his new Viceroy’s House at New Delhi, he created
the greatest palace of modern times. Larger than Versailles, it
preoccupied him until its inauguration in 1931.
After the Great
War, the genius of Lutyens to express the mourning on behalf of the nation
became apparent to the general public with his Cenotaph in Whitehall whose
abstract symbolism captured their imagination and made him widely known.
It was the first of his many war memorials, monuments and military
cemeteries in Britain and in France and further afield, of utmost
originality and beautifully landscaped, which gravely and movingly paid
tribute to the Fallen. In 1918, the Imperial War Graves Commission, which
came into being largely through the energies of Fabian Ware, appointed the
leading architects of the day: Lutyens, Herbert Baker, Reginald Bloomfield
and later Charles Holden, with their teams of assistant architects, for
the vast undertaking of creating permanent memorials and burial grounds of
the Great War – the ‘Silent Cities’ as Kipling called them. With its
tremendous presence, the towering Thiepval Memorial to the Missing,
brooding over the killing fields of the bloodiest conflict in British
military history – the Battle of the Somme – is his greatest achievement
in this domain, which with his others in France: Arras, Étaples and
Villers-Bretonneux for the Australians, came at the height of his powers
of imagination. The Great War Stone, a monolith by Lutyens and
Bloomfield’s Cross of Sacrifice were placed in almost all the cemeteries.
One important feature was that no distinction was to be made between
officers and men; all headstones were of the same form.
After the Great
War, there were fewer country houses, but commissions came in for banks
and commercial premises in the City of London such as Britannic House and
Reuters and blocks of flats such as Grosvenor House, Park lane. What
would have been his greatest work; the Roman Catholic Liverpool cathedral
(1929 41) was curtailed by the War, only its crypt was built. Given his
small office and the exigencies of travel and communication, his output of
some 600 commissions in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France,
Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy, Hungary, America, South Africa and India
is astonishing. Knighted in 1918, President of the Royal Academy from
1938 until his death; in 1942 he was the first architect to be awarded the
Order of Merit.