Context 160 - July 2019

18 C O N T E X T 1 6 0 : J U L Y 2 0 1 9 Asphalt, for example, was regularly used as a waterproofing layer below natural stone roofs to our buildings, but this layer was often not continued up at vertical abutments. Gutters on our buildings are rare, but even when rainwater goods are present they are often hidden. Improving the detailing to such sensitive struc- tures can be difficult to get right. We work with skilled conservation architects on repair projects and occasionally we will sensitively redesign problematic building details. Legibility of inscriptions is a particular focus for us. It is essential that the names of the war dead are legible, and that headstones and panels are clean. Our teams work hard to present cemeteries and memorials to a high standard but of course can not ‘preserve as new’. There is a difficult balancing act between conserving aging stone and caring for the headstones of the war dead in a respectful way so that names can be read. An expert committee in the earliest days of the commission, which included Lutyens and MacDonald Gill, considered legibility. They concluded that ‘the monumental inscription is usually designed to be a record for those who care to search for it rather than an announcement to the world — not so much an advertisement as a confidence.’ This same prin- ciple guides our work today. We have detailed legibility guidance for our teams, and try to re-engrave a headstone where we can. If we can not, our own headstone production unit in France will produce a new one, in most cases using the same stone type. The CWGC is known for the distinctive rows of white headstones seen in many cemeteries on the continent. Visitors are often surprised to find headstones of different stone types.We have over 30; Portland is the best known but Hopton Wood is commonly found, as are various types of granite and slate, and even concrete. We some- times receive complaints about Hopton Wood headstones.This beautiful Derbyshire limestone, which was used extensively, is durable, but it can be hard to read inscriptions at certain times of the day. When the sun moves around, the legibility of the same headstone looks completely different.We work hard to explain our approach to our visitors, who sometimes think that the surface of the stone is eroded. While taking care to follow conservation standards, we are also open to new ideas and approaches. We have been at the forefront of using new horticultural equipment and different techniques to care for our sites. We do not want to erase entirely the effects of time. But we must ensure that every name remains visible, legible and the structures remain safe and beautiful, so that they can be seen for centuries to come. some parts of the world where cement is all that is locally available; we regularly struggle to import mortars for masonry repairs. Some recent examples of our work include the rebuilding of 100-year-old brick boundary walls to several first world war cemeteries in Belgium, where we have been grant aided by the Government of Flanders. We repair and rebuild using traditional lime mortars, re-using original bricks where we can. When we can not, replacement traditional handmade bricks are specified. This may sound straightforward but the scale is immense; we have around 50 miles of walls in France and Belgium alone. In complete contrast, one of our largest projects of recent years has been rebuilding the sea wall to our King Tom Cemetery in Freetown, Sierra Leone. There, distance makes us reliant on local skills and expertise to get the job done. We are scoping a second phase of a major repair programme at the Thiepval Memorial in France. Thiepval, like Lutyens’ Tower Hill Memorial in London (also about to undergo a major repair project this year) uses some design details that were still in their relative infancy in the 1920s and 30s. Jon Gedling is director of works at the CommonwealthWar Graves Commission. Le Touret Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais (first world war) Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore (first and second world wars) The El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt (second world war)