A major restoration of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s largest memorial in the world – the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme – has taken an important step forward.
The specialist Monument Group has been appointed to support the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) in preserving the monument, which was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and was unveiled by the Prince of Wales in August 1932.
The stone is generally Massangis Roche Jaune Claire from France, with panels recording more than 72,000 soldiers whose bodies were never recovered made from Portland limestone from the UK.
The project, which had been planned to start this year but was delayed by the coronavirus restrictions, will see the completion of an ambitious conservation programme started in 2014. Work was paused in 2016 to allow the World War I Battle of the Somme centenary to be marked there.
Phase one of the work consisted of repairs to the roofs, rainwater pipes and brick work above the main arch. The second phase, starting in March, will continue this work, as well as including additional drainage works, water proofing, restoration of the name panels, relaying of paving and securing the outer layer of stone with thousands of ties.
The project is due for completion in May 2022.
Throughout much of this period the memorial and name panels will not be accessible to the public but a free-to-use digital exhibition will be available for visitors to explore. Called The Shadow of Thiepval, it can be accessed on-site at Thiepval using a smart phone or tablet. The exhibition tells the story of the Battle of the Somme, the memorial’s construction and the men commemorated on its walls. A virtual display of the memorial panels will be included. The adjoining cemetery and the Thiepval Visitor Centre will remain open as usual.
Barry Murphy, CWGC's Director General, says: “For nearly a century the Thiepval Memorial has stood as a monument to the sacrifice of those killed on the Somme in the First World War. Today, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission takes an important step closer to preserving this iconic memorial for the next century and beyond.
“We look forward to working with our partners, Monument Group, in completing this vital restoration work so that new generations will be inspired by the incredible stories of those named on its walls as well as by the architectural splendour of this Sir Edwin Lutyens designed masterpiece.
“We recognise that Thiepval is at the heart of any battlefield tour of the Somme, so while the memorial undergoes its essential restoration, CWGC is providing an innovative new way of exploring the site and surrounding landscape.
“Through an interactive multimedia exhibition visitors will be able to learn about the memorial, its place in the landscape, and the Battle of Somme. The exhibition will also feature some of the individuals we commemorate, the wider work of the CWGC and regular updates on the renovation as it happens. The exhibition will be freely available to all visitors via their mobile devices, creating an intimate experience of Thiepval’s compelling history through film, sound and arresting imagery.”
Willy Van Noten, Managing Director of Monument Group, says: “After several successful collaborations with the CWGC in restoring unique historical sites in France and Belgium, we are once again proud and honoured to be part of the restoration of the monumental world-known site Thiepval in France. Group Monument is committed to restore the site to its full glory.”
Scaffolding will be erected on the memorial from March.
We would also like to thank our French partners, La Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles (D.R.A.C.), La Région Hauts-de-France and Le Conseil Départemental de la Somme, for their approval for the works and financial support.