IT IS not so much the number of graves that hits you as the number of cemeteries.
Some are small like Bethune where we stopped for an now great,great grandfather. Other are large, such as Etaples which holds thousands upon thousands of people.
Thanks to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC), all are in perfect condition.
This 105-year-old institution — originally the Imperial War Graves Commission — has a fascinating backstory, and you don’t need to be a history buff to get to grips with it.
A new visitor experience has been created at the War Graves Headquarters near Arras in northern France. It is now accessible to all.
Free to visit, the CWGC looks after some 3,000 cemeteries in France alone — and another 20,000 memorials and cemeteries in 150 countries worldwide.
But it is more than just preserving the past. It is actively involved in genealogy, helping families trace their own lost loved ones, and using DNA technology to investigate recent battlefield discoveries.
An audio guide can help you learn more, or you can join one of our enthusiastic staff to take a guided tour. Cameron, our guide, was a fountain of knowledge that brought the story to life. It may be because there is a connection to Rye, East Sussex.
The original Cross of Sacrifice — a bronze sword set in a stone cross — was designed by another Rye local, Reginald Blomfield. You can see it at St Mary’s churchyard on the Sussex coast.
Blomfield was among a group that included intellectuals and designers who changed the way we think of remembrance. Edwin Lutyens was one of them, most famous for his Cenotaph at Whitehall.
Rudyard Kipling and Max Gill, the Architect, provided the font. “Their name liveth for evermore”Taken from the Bible.
Even the choice of plants was carefully considered — experts at the Botanical Gardens in Kew advised on horticultural design. History will continue to debate whether the war was fought with such wisdom.
Regardless of what your view is, the city Arras is a must-see destination for anyone with an interest in historical events.
It is beautiful today with its cathedral and medieval square that preserve secrets. However, the British forces took control of it in 1916.
The Battle of Arras began with a large German offensive, but ended in stalemate. There were nearly 300,000.
The Wellington Quarry is a great place to learn this lesson. It’s home to one of the greatest feats of the Great War.
Here, tunnellers excavated thousands of tonnes of limestone beneath the city, joining up with pits and caves dating to Roman times.
Starting in 1916, they dug more than ten miles of tunnels, which eventually housed 24,000 men — secretly waiting for battle.
New Zealand troops were responsible for a lot of the work, and named the network Wellington after them.
You can see the British Empire’s vast reach from every corner of this region of France. But not always in a triumphal way.
One of the key tasks at the CWGC was to improve memorials for African servicemen and Indian soldiers, who were often overlooked over the last century. This is yet another reminder of the fact that history can never be settled.
This Remembrance Day will be unlike any other due to the passing our dear Queen.
But the full story truly does live forever — in a foreign field, not too far from these shores.
Go to Arras
HOW TO GET THERE Return Eurotunnel crossings from Folkestone are from £164. See eurotunnel.com.
STAYING THERE Rooms at the 4H Mercure Arras Centre Gare start at £90 per night including parking. Breakfast: £15. See allaccor.com.
MORE INFORMATION:See Cwgc.org arraspaysdartois.com.