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Equality, Permanence and Inspiration – Shaping the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Condition Surveys

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was established in 1917 during the First World War, initially being known as the Imperial War Graves Commission.  The Commission commemorates 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars and has responsibility for the care of cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in 154 countries.  Its core founding values of equality, permanence, dignity and inspiration have endured, creating ageless places of remembrance, with a powerful ability to evoke reflection and values.  Yet, undeniably, the way these war cemeteries and memorials are appreciated has become modified over time by changing context and cultural perceptions.  They are now read set in healed landscapes, where signs of war are no longer evident and without the perspective of the bereaved or of combatants seeking resolution and comfort (one commentator has recently written of the intersection between ‘the healing of the landscape and the healing of individuals’).  As assets, the cemeteries are incredibly rich in heritage values, but understanding these today can be highly problematic.  They elicit such intense, diverse, even conflicting emotions within the visitor, and each visitor’s experience is personal, being filtered through their own life-experiences and personal belief systems.  This is one of those occasions where it is easier to plot the founding values of a century ago than it is to comprehend how those values and their relative potency have changed over time.  The asset management implications of this are immense.

Heritage Places was appointed by the Commission to create a new integrated condition survey process that would be robust yet simple enough to be implemented and effective on its designed assets around the world.  Critically, the survey process had to deliver consistent condition, repair and financial data, despite the great variation in circumstances and in the backgrounds of its users.  The new reporting format was tested iteratively in pilot surveys of cemeteries and memorials in Europe and is supported by detailed survey standards and procedures and a standard commissioning brief for future condition surveys.

Client: Commonwealth War Graves Commission