DescriptionThe French troops transferred Arras to the British armed forces in the spring of 1916. The system of tunnels underneath the city was brought into use and further developed in preparation for the great offensive that had been planned for April 1917. The construction of the British part of the cemetery began in March 1916, behind the existing French cemetery. It was in use until the Armistice and was extended afterwards with graves that were transferred from the battlefield and from two smaller cemeteries in the vicinity. The French graves were moved elsewhere after the war and the vacant ground was designated for the Arras Memorial and Arras Flying Services Memorial. The location is on the outskirts of the old inner city of Arras, next to the citadel of Vauban, the famous fortress builder.
The cemetery comprises 2,650 graves and the Memorial to the Missing commemorates 35,000 soldiers from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who were reported missing after the Battle of Arras in April/May 1917, or after the German spring offensive of 1918. Missing Canadian and Australian soldiers are commemorated by Memorials in Vimy and Villers-Bretonneux respectively. The Flying Services Memorial commemorates missing aircrew from the entire Western Front. In addition there are some graves of World War ii casualties.
It is evident that the cemetery had already been planned and constructed before the design of the Memorial was made. The paths of the cemetery are not in accordance with the design of the Memorial. The first part of the cemetery consists of long rows of graves only, whereas the second part has a central path in a northsouth direction, and two broader side-paths going from east to west. On the drawing, the Cross of Sacrifice had been placed near the second side path, in the central axis of the Memorial, with the War Stone on the east side of the cemetery as a part of the Memorial. However, the Cross is not, or no longer, in this location today but on the side of the road. This has actually weakened the relation between the cemetery and the Memorial. Space has been allowed for Indian and German graves and for special memorials at the edge of the cemetery.
Generally speaking, the main task when making memorials consisted in creating sufficient wall space for all the names of the missing persons. In addition, the triangular shape of the location was rather unusual. The architects of the different memorials drew their inspiration from suitable types of buildings, such as the monastery. The design for the memorial that was eventually realized was the second Lutyens had made. In the first design, he envisaged a cloister with the open side facing the existing cemetery. The cloister continued onward along the shortest side of the triangular ground, but with the open side facing the area at the front, creating a stylish forecourt. The three bell towers, each with different alternating openings with bells, were the most notable feature. A huge, high arch connecting two bell towers was meant to occupy centre stage in the design. To a certain extent, the design recalls the realized design for the memorial in Thiepval, albeit that the arches are becoming smaller as they are placed higher in the tower. Eventually the design was adjusted, partly because the French authorities were beginning to be concerned about the number and size of the British memorials. Apart from conflicting national interests, it would certainly be difficult to imagine what meaning the monumental arch at the present location of the Memorial would have, with a view of the existing cemetery that had by no means been designed to incorporate a large central entrance.
In the complex as realized, the bell towers and the monumental arch have been left out, and the Flying Services Memorial has been given the shape of a big column with a globe with stars on top, designed by the sculptor Sir William Reid Dick. The open forecourt of the first design has been made considerably smaller and has been replaced by a system of courts and cloisters that gives rise to an interesting spatial experience. On the outside the Memorial bears a remote likeness to the citadel next to it in terms of its closeness, but once inside perspectives into several directions are revealed. The Cross of Sacrifice, which was probably needed to make clear on the side of the road what the function of the building was, is incorporated in the complex by means of two vistas. Instead of the cloister of the first design there is now a whole system of cloisters. An additional advantage was that the available wall space for all the names had increased considerably.
Basically, the structure of the building is made up of ten identical pavilion-shaped small buildings, connected at the intersections by means of short arcades. The shelters are similar to the basic elements of the shelters and gatehouses in other cemeteries. Aediculae have been added to the outside of the square shelters. Two porticos have a curved roof to accentuate the passages to the Cross of Sacrifice and the Flying Services Memorial. On account of this three- dimensional structure, the monumental hierarchy of the initial design has completely disappeared and it has now become a building with no beginning and no end.
The forecourt comprises a large lawn with edging of natural stone, which connects the four entrances with the profile of the road. This evokes the special effect that one walks across a lawn towards a big stone building. The façade consists of a combination of natural stone and brickwork on the outside. On the inside, panels of natural stone with the names of the missing soldiers have been fixed on the brickwork. Until a few years ago, the brick sections on the outside were covered with ivy.
The cloister being on one side only of the cemetery suggests that it is a part of a far larger complex, only half of which has been realized or half of which has disappeared. The plan also is reminiscent of a part of an open-air cathedral that Lutyens had in mind in 1917. This fragmentary character is typical of Lutyens’ work for the IWGC, which sought to capture the enormity of war in one fragment. (Geurst, 2010, pp.289-291)
BibliographyGeurst, J. (2010) Cemeteries of the Great War by Sir Edwin Lutyens. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers.
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Listing GradeComing soon
ClientImperial War Graves Commission