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War memorials in our care

The War Memorial Garden at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire
The War Memorial Garden at Cliveden | © National Trust Images/Hugh Mothersole

The memorials to the men and women who lost their lives in wartime are poignant reminders that they were once members of their local communities and had a peacetime role in shaping the places we love today. Discover the stories behind the 170 war memorials in our care and where you can find them.

Caring for war memorials

Many hundreds, possibly thousands, of workers, tenants and owners from the places we now care for died in the First World War and other conflicts. We don’t know how many or even who some of them were.

The stories we do know are touching, often heroic and always too brief. We care for their memorials as we would for the most precious items in our collections.

Discover the many varied memorials we care for

We look after around 170 war memorials, about 70 of which are from the First World War. The places in our care have connections to another 130 through family members, staff or other historical connections.

Each memorial marks a singular time and momentous sacrifice. They are places where one can pause awhile. They and the people they recall continue to be an important part of our story.

Rudyard Kipling and King George V
Rudyard Kipling and King George V | © National Trust/Charles Thomas

What was the Imperial War Graves Commission?

The Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) was the British institution that dealt with burying and commemorating the First World War soldiers who'd been declared either dead or missing. Today, it is responsible for cemeteries and memorials of both World Wars, in more than 150 countries. In 1960, its name was changed to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to reflect the changing state of the British empire.

Choosing inscriptions

Families were allowed to choose 66-character epitaphs for headstones. However, inscriptions were also needed to represent collective and unknown identities.

Rudyard Kipling, a well-known British poet, was asked to help create inscriptions that would become perennial features of IWGC sites. His involvement with the IWGC would cement his friendship with King George V, whom he accompanied on royal visits to the War Cemeteries.

Rudyard Kipling and the First World War

Rudyard Kipling did not serve in the conflict, but his son John did. John went missing in battle and his body was not identified during Kipling’s lifetime.

This was an unusually common fate during the First World War compared to prior conflicts.

The loss of John made Kipling a famous example of this unfortunately prevalent First World War phenomenon: a parent mourning a son without the certainty of a body to bury.

The Stone of Remembrance

Kipling’s most famous contribution to IWGC inscriptions is one which he did not actually write himself but was instrumental in selecting.

Most IWGC cemeteries with more than 1,000 graves include a ‘Stone of Remembrance’, a structure designed to imitate an altar or a tomb. Each one is inscribed with a phrase from The Book of Ecclesiasticus: 'Their name liveth forevermore.'

Kipling played a key role in selecting the words that would immortalize the First World War fallen. His efforts helped to ensure that memory of the fallen indeed lives ‘forevermore.’ His home, Bateman's in Sussex, has been in our care since 1939.

This article contains information written by Dr Hanna Smyth from the University of Oxford.

The Boer War memorial on Coombe Hill in the summer with purple flowers in the grass

Find war memorials to visit

You can search for these memorials and discover the stories behind them, on our online map. Find out which you can see nearby and at the places you love to visit.

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