Thursday 8 February 2024 – Ieper: Dr Tim Godden (artist and Honorary Fellow, University of Kent), Under an English Heaven: Ideas of England in the entrance ways of IWGC war cemeteries on the old Western Front.
When a writer for the Halifax Evening Courier remarked of their trip to one of the Imperial War Graves Commission cemeteries that they were ‘a plot of England in a foreign land’, they struck upon a central element of the cemetery design. Rupert Brooke’s famous poem had, a few years earlier, coined the phrase ‘some corner of a foreign field’, and the prevailing emotions captured in those lines were central to the visual language created to encapsulate principally, though not exclusively, the sacrifice of the fallen.
An essential element to the creation of these ‘plots of England’ was a clear border between foreign land and ‘England’. Within this demarcation the architects as well, as taking the opportunity retain elements of the wartime history of the site, used it to establish a cultural threshold, too. This was
particularly evident in the entrance spaces designed by the IWGC architects to transfer the pilgrim from the external, foreign and profane space, to the sacred ‘forever England’ of the burial ground.
Using a number of these cemeteries as examples, this talk will explore how the IWGC included elements of Englishness and English lore into their entrance designs. It will show how these transitional spaces and the design intent behind them are essential in understanding both the cemeteries and the culture in which they were created.
Educational Room of In Flanders Fields Museum, Cloth Hall, Grote Markt, 8900 Ieper, 7 pm.