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Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme

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Title: Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Battle of the Somme, Edwin Lutyens, Menin Gate, Missing in action, Henry Allingham, Post Office Rifles, Eric Norman Frankland Bell, Thomas Orde Lawder Wilkinson, Thiepval (disambiguation), Thiepval Barracks
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme
Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme
For the dead of the Battles of the Somme of World War I with no known grave
Unveiled 31 July 1932 by Edward, Prince of Wales
Location 50°3′2″N 2°41′9″E / 50.05056°N 2.68583°E / 50.05056; 2.68583Coordinates: 50°3′2″N 2°41′9″E / 50.05056°N 2.68583°E / 50.05056; 2.68583
near Thiepval, northern France

Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens
Total commemorated 72,191
Here are recorded names of officers and men of the British Armies who fell on the Somme battlefields July 1915 February 1918 but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death
Statistics source: Cemetery register: CWGC.

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme is a major war memorial to 72,191 missing British and South African men who died in the Battles of the Somme of the First World War between 1915 and 1918 with no known grave. It is near the village of Thiepval, Picardie in France. A visitors' centre opened in 2004.[1]


The Memorial was built approximately 200 metres to the south-east of the former Thiepval Château, which was located on lower ground, by the side of Thiepval Wood. The grounds of the original château were not chosen as this would have required the moving of graves dug during the war, around the numerous medical aid stations.

Design and inauguration

Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the memorial was built between 1928 and 1932 and is the largest British battle memorial in the world. It was inaugurated by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) in the presence of Albert Lebrun, President of France, on 1 August 1932.[2]

The memorial, which dominates the rural scene surrounding it, has 16 brick piers, faced with Portland stone. It was originally built using French bricks from Lille,[3] but was refaced in 1973 with Accrington brick.[1] The main arch is aligned east to west.[4] The memorial's height is 140 feet (43 m) above the level of its podium,[5] which to the west is itself 20 feet (6.1 m) feet above the level of the adjoining cemetery.[4] It has foundations 19 feet (5.8 m) thick, required due to extensive wartime tunnelling beneath the structure.

It is a complex form of memorial arch, comprising interlocking arches of four different sizes. Each side of the main arch is pierced by a smaller arch, oriented at a right angle to the main arch. Each side of each of these smaller arches is then pierced by a still smaller arch, and so on.[6] The keystone of each smaller arch is at the level of the spring of the larger arch that it pierces; each of these levels is marked by a stone cornice.[7] This design results in 16 piers, having 64 stone-panelled sides.[6] Only 48 of these are inscribed, as the panels around the outside of the memorial are blank.[8]

The main arch is surmounted by a tower.[6] In the central space of the memorial a Stone of Remembrance rests on a three-stepped platform.[7]


The inscription of names on the memorial is reserved for those missing, or unidentified, soldiers who have no known grave. A large inscription on an internal surface of the memorial reads:

Here are recorded names of officers and men of the British Armies who fell on the Somme battlefields between July 1915 and March 1918 but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death.

On the Portland stone piers are engraved the names of over 72,000 men who were lost in the Somme battles between July 1916 and March 1918. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission states that over 90% of these soldiers died in the first Battle of the Somme between 1 July and 18 November 1916.[2] The names are carved using the standard upper-case lettering designed for the Commission by MacDonald Gill.[8]

Over the years since its inauguration, bodies have been regularly discovered on the former battlefield and are sometimes identified through various means. The decision was taken that to protect the integrity of the memorial as one solely for those who are missing or unidentified, that if a body were found and identified the inscription of their name would be removed from the memorial by filling in the inscription with cement. For those who are found and identified, they are given a funeral with full military honours at a cemetery close to the location at which he was discovered. This practice has resulted in numerous gaps in the lists of names.

On the top of the archway, a French inscription reads: Aux armées Française et Britannique l'Empire Britannique reconnaissant (To the French and British Armies, from the grateful British Empire). Just below this, are carved the years 1914 and 1918. On the upper edges of the side archways, split across left and right, is carved the phrase "The Missing ... of the Somme".[9]

Also included on this memorial are sixteen stone laurel wreaths, inscribed with the names of sub-battles that made up the Battle of the Somme in which the men commemorated at Thiepval fell. The battles so-named are Ancre Heights, Ancre, Albert, High Wood, Delville Wood, Morval, Flers-Courcelette, Pozieres Wood, Bazentin Ridge, Thiepval Ridge, Transloy Ridges, Ginchy, Guillemont,

Anglo-French memorial

The Thiepval Memorial also serves as an Anglo-French battle memorial to commemorate the joint nature of the 1916 offensive.[2] In further recognition of this, a cemetery containing 300 British Commonwealth and 300 French graves lies at the foot of the memorial. Many of the soldiers buried here are unknown. The British Commonwealth graves have rectangular headstones made of white stone, while the French graves have grey stone crosses. On the British headstones is the inscription "A Soldier of the Great War/ Known unto God". The French crosses bear the single word "Inconnu" ('unknown'). The cemetery's Cross of Sacrifice bears an inscription that acknowledges the joint British and French contributions:[10]

Ceremonies and services

Each year on 1 July (the anniversary of the first day on the Somme) a major ceremony is held at the memorial.[2] There is also a ceremony on the 11 November, beginning at 1045 CET.

See also

  • World War I memorials



External links

  • Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme (Commonwealth War Graves Commission)

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