LETTER TO THE COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES COMMISSION
10 August 2018
Dear Director General
New information boards at CWGC cemeteries
I am writing to you to express my great concern about the new information boards which are appearing at a number of CWGC cemeteries. In this respect, I refer also to my recent correspondence with Liz Woodfield, your communications director.
On my most recent trips to the Arras/Somme area, I have been shocked at what I have seen – over-sized crude white signs, on traffic-sign poles, which compromise the aesthetic and architectural aspects of the cemeteries.
I could give many examples, but some of the worst on the Somme include:
- Beaumont Hamel, where the iconic view down to the cemetery from Hawthorn Ridge is blighted by a large white sign;
- Serre No.3 where the walk up the lane, slowly revealing the smaller cemeteries, is now interrupted by a large sign (which has typographical errors in it and wrongly sites the position of the cemetery relative to the British lines);
- Redan Ridge No.3 where the approach sight lines are destroyed by the new oversized signs;
- Delville Wood where the symmetry of the view through the gates is compromised by 2 large signs at the left of the entrance.
- Monchy where, again, the symmetry of the classical view through the gates to the arches is compromised by 2 large signs at the right of the entrance.
I am sure these signs have been put out there with the best of intentions but I hope you will stop this process and reconsider. CWGC should be protecting the beauty and carefully planned integrity of the design of the cemeteries. What you are currently doing is not far short of vandalism.
In your message of 1 January 2018 you suggest that “future strategy, is about engagement with the public as well as simply caring for the sites; ensuring that people come and visit, and learn about the people we commemorate – making remembrance far more meaningful”.
It is impossible to disagree with that as a proposition but these dreadful new information boards are a mockery of the impeccable standards set by the inspired architects who so carefully set the cemeteries into the landscape. Not a word I like, but in context they are “chav”. It is really not clear to me how CWGC could have made such a leap from the tastefulness of its traditional signage to something quite as bad as these new signs, both in terms of the size, quality and appearance of the signs and their insensitive positioning.
I do hope this process will stop and you will reconsider.
Rich M Hughes
Member, Western Front Association
17 August 2018
Dear Mr Hughes
Thank you for your letter of 10 August 2018.
I have great sympathy with what you say. This signage project was begun five years ago, and has - generally - been of huge benefit around the world, helping to explain and contextualise the cemeteries. But a huge number of signs were rushed out in the run up to the Battle of the Somme centenary. Their positioning was not well thought through, and as a result, they have become something of a blot on the landscape.
The good news is that we are working on improvements, and steadily removing (in some cases, permanently), replacing and re-siting the boards. In fact the Redan Ridge one has already gone. And we are also reviewing the design and materials.
As you say, this programme was initiated with the best of intentions, but fortunately, is wholly reversible. I hope on future trips you will be reassured by the changes.