We have just returned from back-to-back tours of the Western Front. The first was in the foulest weather ever. The second, a week later, was in glorious heat and sun. We had with us the distinguished stone conservator DAVID ODGERS on the first tour, who gave erudite and informative talks at various cemeteries on the design and conception of CWGCs, and matters of conservation and maintenance. Sourcing new stone that blends with the original Portland has not been solved; Istrian stone looks more like marble with its veins. David points out that the public’s perception of what constitutes ‘respectful’ memorials – pristine white ones – is at the heart of the problem. Headstones and memorials are over-cleaned. He himself has endlessly spruced up the Royal Artillery Memorial on Hyde Park Corner and the Cenotaph – which become more vulnerable through opening the pores.
On our second tour we visited the beautiful Lutyens cemetery of Heilly Station (see photo), south of Albert on the Somme. Our client, David Denning, had an uncle buried there. While we studied the epitaphs, some of them most moving, I mentioned that I recalled one – in some cemetery – that went:
WILL SOME KIND HAND
IN A FOREIGN LAND
PLACE A FLOWER
ON MY SON’S GRAVE
I looked down and there it was! Blimey. Naturally we picked a flower, a tulip, and placed it on the grave of Sapper David Simpson from Australia, killed 11/01/1917.