<% Response.expires = 0.01 %>Thiepval Visitor Centre Creation 1998-2004




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from March 2005


The Thiepval
Visitor Centre

8 rue de l'Ancre
80300 Thiepval

Tel: 00333 2274 6047
Fax: 00333 2247 6544



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The CAF Thiepval Project  Registered Charity Number. 268369 
Fundraising now complete


This section last changed December 2005






M. Alain Petitjean

Sir Frank Sanderson

Joint Chief Executive of the
Conseil Général  de la Somme

Chairman of the Thiepval Project

on the headlines below to go directly to that article.






The "CAF Thiepval Project" was the working title of the British end of the Franco-British partnership that has created a visitor centre at Thiepval. The French partner was the Conseil Général de la Somme. The Charities Aid Foundation was the UK charitable fund administrator.

Until the opening of the Centre in 2004 there was nothing at Thiepval to tell visitors, especially the large numbers of school children, what had happened on the Somme in 1916. All that they would have seen was a magnificent memorial inscribed with over 72,000 names of British sailors and soldiers who disappeared on a battlefield, and the graves of 300 French and 300 British soldiers - nothing about the other 54,000 British soldiers who have named graves in the area from the same battle and nearly 300,000 wounded from this series of battles, nothing about why they were there, nothing about Kitchener's Army and the Pals Battalions - no context. As simply as possible in three languages, the Visitor Centre has been designed to correct this, so that visitors may now leave with a greater understanding of the events of 1916 and remember the sacrifice and the historical context in to which it fits. There has been no attempt at "interpretation with hindsight". The context also includes the events of 1918 when a fearful reverse was turned into the hundred days advance to the Armistice.

The Thiepval Memorial is not only a memorial to the UK and South African Missing, but also an Anglo-French battle memorial to the 1916 battles of the Somme. Due regard has been given to the activities of our gallant French allies on the southern part of the line.

As was the intention from the outset, the concept of the Visitor Centre was not to add yet another memorial to this already much visited and hallowed site, but to provide a discreet building where visitors could not only find historical information about Thiepval and what it represents, but also rest, reflect and find refreshment and associated facilities in a suitable setting. One  result of the building of the centre is that the Monument itself may now be a little quieter with fewer cars and buses parked in the Lutyens half circle.

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On 1st July 1998 Sir Frank Sanderson attended his first Thiepval Ceremony and discussed the idea of a visitor centre with Colonel Piers Storie-Pugh of Remembrance Travel, Royal British Legion, Mike Johnson Director of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in France and Brigadier Andrew Gadsby the then Military Attaché at the British Embassy in Paris.

After searching for a way forward it was soon realised that the only solution was to organise a joint effort with the French authorities on the basis that funds would be raised in the UK.  An excellent start was made at a meeting in Amiens with Sénateur Fernand Demilly, then Président du Conseil Général of the Département of the Somme and Madame Geneviève Potié MBE, the Mayor of Thiepval.  The Sénateur generously offered not only to match any funds raised in the UK, but also to organise the construction and  to run the visitor centre. This arrangement was warmly welcomed by the British Government.

Brigadier Andrew Gadsby from the Embassy took a personal interest and very soon Sir Michael Jay, the Ambassador at that time, became a Patron. Shortly afterwards HRH The Duke of Kent agreed to become our Royal Patron.  The Charities Aid Foundation (Michael Brophy) kindly offered the management skills and charitable status that are so important to a project of this significance. Subsequently Sir Michael Jay moved to become Permanent Under Secretary of State at the Foreign Office and Commonwealth in London and Sir John Holmes the new Ambassador in Paris became the third Patron.

A fundraising committee under the umbrella of The Charities Aid Foundation came into being and fundraising began in earnest supported by our three Patrons.

HRH The Duke of Kent KCMG GCVO ADC
Sir Michael Jay KCMG The Permanent Under Secretary Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Sir John Holmes GCVO KCB HM Ambassador to France

That committee included the following people:

Sir Frank Sanderson Bt. OBE   Chairman
Colonel Piers Storie-Pugh OBE TD DL Royal British Legion, Remembrance Travel.
Michael Barker Lutyens Trust
Helen McPhail Vice Chairman, Wilfred Owen Association
Sir Peter Graham
KCB CBE The Gordon Highlanders Museum
Professor Richard Holmes
Robin Ollington
FRSA Newsletters
Carol Nubbert  Durand Group Keeper of donor records
Clive Priestley
CB, Secretary

Ex officio: Brigadier Andrew Gadsby ADC, Brigadier Roy Ratazzi CBE and  Brigadier Tim Gregson MBE consecutive Military Attachés, British Embassy, Paris.
Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Mather
CVO OBE Opening Ceremony.

Many donations were accompanied by letters mentioning the names of relatives who fell or served in the war and all this information has been carefully collated and a book containing this information will be prepared and will form part of the history of the Centre.

Over two thousand donations were received and a full list is now "etched" on the windows of the Centre.  The list is also included in this website.

During this time the Project newsletters mentioned some of the people who had donated and helped the Project, and although it may be invidious to pick out just a few names, the following were mentioned by name at the time and may be of interest to readers of this site.

Lord Robertson wrote from NATO to give his full support. Support was also received from        The Earl Haig, The Earl Kitchener, The Viscount Ridley (a grandson of Edwin Lutyens and former Commonwealth War Graves Commissioner), Sir Nicholas Hewitt of Pen and Sword Books,  Sir Robert Crawford Director of the Imperial War Museum,  Ian Robertson, of the National Army Museum, Tonie and Valmai Holt the pioneers of modern battlefield travel, the       In-Pensioners of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, the late Mr Douglas Roberts a 102 year-old veteran of the Somme, and Mr F Ryder, the son of the late Robert Edward Ryder VC who won his Victoria Cross during the capture of Thiepval near the site of the  Centre, and then continued to serve for many years in the Middlesex Regiment, as did his son.

Trusts, Foundations, Commerce, Local and Central Government and the EU provided the main part of the funds.  BPAmoco (through the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers) kindly started us off with £10,000 and The Foreign and Commonwealth Office gave £40,000.  Within a short while a major benefactor generously gave £72,000, a pound for every name inscribed on the Memorial, and later there was another large personal donation of US$59,000.

There were a multitude of generous donors including: HSBC, British American Tobacco, Unilever, Shell International, Consignia, also the Garfield Weston Trust who gave £40,000, the Dulverton Trust who gave £25,000 and other Trusts including the Colyer-Fergusson Charitable Trust, the Lindbury Trust, the Lady Hind Trust, the Sir James Knott Trust, the Gosling Trust, the Bernard Sunley Trust, the Hull and East Riding Trust, the Robertson Trust, the MacRobert Trust, the Trusthouse Charitable Foundation, and  many other Trusts and Foundations. We also received thousands of generous personal donations including one from the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mrs. Williams.

On the civic side many cities, towns and counties including the City of London, the Cities of Aberdeen, Leeds  and Portsmouth, the Borough of Rugby and the Counties of Suffolk, Norfolk, Renfrewshire, Surrey and Warwickshire have generously made donations. East Sussex County Council helped us bid for Interreg European Cross Border funds and their Chairman attended the laying of the foundation stone.

Many Livery Companies of the City of London, Western Front Association branches and Royal British Legion branches and the In-Pensioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea supported the Project.

Alongside monetary donations vital assistance was given many devoted experts in their fields: architectural, design and historical.

Michael Barker an architect representing the Lutyens Trust acted as the unpaid architectural and design advisor, wrote the script and chose the photographs for all the “memory” side of the exhibition.  Brother Nigel Cave who edits the Pen and Sword Battleground Europe books kindly agreed to become the honorary historian and was greatly assisted by Professor Peter Simkins of the Imperial War Museum and by Michael Stedman. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission gave constant assistance and their Directors in France, Mike Johnson and Tim Reeves, and also Peter Craven were ever on hand to help us. Also in France Arlene King of the Canadian Department of Veterans Affairs at the nearby Beaumont Hamel Memorial Park was alongside with constant help and assistance.

Phillip Russell Vick landscape architect of enplan (Tunbridge Wells) generously prepared plans and greatly assisted us on the landscaping that has so successfully blended the French architects' superb design into the countryside surrounding the Lutyens memorial. Lieutenant Colonel Phillip Robinson and the Durand Group researched the Stuttgart archives of the 26th Reserve Division to locate possible German bunkers and not only surveyed the site, but also supervised the all excavation works to ensure maximum respect for this sensitive location.

In France, Sénateur Fernand Demilly the Chairman of the Conseil Général of the Somme and his successors Sénateurs Alain Gest and Daniel Dubois were strong supporters and Alain Petitjean the Joint Chief Executive of the Conseil Général gave hours of his time to the Project.  Madame Geneviève Potié, the Mayor of Thiepval, and her husband not only made the land available, but were a constant source of encouragement, ever looking after the interests of the Project.

A large number of Regiments and Regimental Associations connected with the Battle of the Somme have also sent donations. A group of REME men attached to the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, led by Staff Sergeant Colin Lyons, undertook a sponsored bicycle ride from Tidworth to Thiepval and raised over £5,000.

REME Cyclists

1-PWRR Arrival at Thiepval.

Four brave girls from Oundle school raised over £6,000 through a sponsored bicycle ride from Verdun to Ypres, via Thiepval. See Fundraising Events for details.

Michael Morpurgo and The Really Useful Group put on a most impressive evening performance of words, music and film about the Great War at the Haymarket Theatre on Remembrance Sunday 2002. See Fundraising Events for details.  

EUROTUNNEL  very kindly gave free travel for all the meetings in France, which  greatly assisted the finances.

EUROSTAR allowed use of a whole train from Waterloo / Ashford to the Haute Somme station for the opening ceremony at an exceedingly reasonable price.

Many, many other people, too numerous to mention in this space, gave support, arranged publicity, organised fundraising and made donations. The resulting Centre is their monument.  This website, donated by Real Fx, is now being kept up to date by Gordon Fraser ( http://www.1canhelp.com/  ) and his faithful hound Seamus.   

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FUNDING IN EUROS as at 31st  December 2005

Approximate figures based on a  0.72 / 1.39 rate of exchange.


Conseil Général
de la Somme

CAF Thiepval
Project €

CAF Thiepval
Project in

Building and  landscaping





Educational exhibition and other items


(INTERREG IIIA  Guildford)




 (Part  refundable)









TOTAL:        EURO  2,647,000        (£1,906,000)

Following the offer by the Conseil Général of the Somme to match funds raised in the UK, we knew that we were well on the way to success.

A plan was developed for each side to raise £300,000 and this was soon increased to £400,000 to which would be added the EU grants.  The Foreign and Commonwealth Office £40,000 contribution was designed to be 10% of the British £400,000.  On the building side all payments and all construction matters were administered by the Conseil Général, and the Thiepval Project simply paid half the cost. As the educational exhibition was primarily a British history intended for British visitors, it was agreed that the Thiepval Project should  be wholly responsible for this part of the project and have the exhibition designed and manufactured in the UK.  The Conseil Général agreed to man the Centre and meet all the running costs in the future; this they are doing through their excellent Historial de la Grande Guerre (museum).

Being financially responsible for the Educational exhibition meant that the Thiepval Project needed to raise yet further funds and the Conseil Général suggested that we should apply to the Government Office of the South East in Guildford for an Interreg IIIA Cross Border EU grant. Guided by our French friends and with assistance from the East Sussex County Council, the forms were filled in and we received a £200,000 grant that was paid over in a most customer-friendly manner.  The Conseil Général also applied for and received EU FEDER grants in respect of the total cost of the building that included the 50% funded by the Thiepval Project. Additionally the Conseil Général agreed to pay all the VAT; however after a year or so they should have been able to recover the majority of this tax.

Yet further expenses meant that Conseil Général had now reached the limit of their funding possibilities, so further necessary expenses, such as the extra landscaping necessary to blend in the Centre with the Lutyens Memorial skyline and the purchase of the additional land needed for this purpose, were paid for by the generous Donors to the Thiepval Project.

The final figure raised by the CAF Thiepval Project, mainly in the UK, was £710,000 plus the £200,000 EU grant from GOSE in Guildford.

All donations have been  recorded and a list  "etched" onto the windows at the Centre.  A list is also included in this website.

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His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent had visited Thiepval on 16th November 2000 in order to meet our French partners and to give our joint efforts his seal of approval. This was just over two years after the idea of building a Centre had been conceived and as it turned out there were nearly another four years to go until his next visit to officially open centre.

Looking back it is difficult to realise that the process took so long; everybody was working so hard that the time seemed to fly by, but to give some appreciation of the timetable as it finally worked out  - here are some dates: 

With the participation of Peter Craven of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission a small group from the Property Department of the Conseil Géral of the Somme arranged for a competition for an architect to design the building. Forty answers were received, mainly from France and the UK.  Two meetings took place in Amiens, firstly to choose the four finalists, (two of whom were British) who were the engaged to produce plans, and secondly to select the winner.  In November 2001 a joint Conseil Géral / Thiepval Project jury that included Michael Barker, Paul Lutyens (a nephew of Sir Edwin with an architectural practice in Paris), Mike Johnson of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Sir Frank Sanderson selected Plan01, a Paris based architect to amplify his plans and to build the Centre under the overall management of the Works Department of the Conseil Géral de la Somme. (See ARCHITECT, below)  The very good runners-up were Nicholas Hare Architects of London; the other two finalists were  Avery Associates of London and Terre Neuve of Paris.

In March 2002 Graham Simpson Design consultants (See DESIGNER, below) was appointed to design the educational content of the Centre and in June 2002 Brother Nigel Cave bravely agreed to become the lead historian. After a meeting with Stephan Audoine-Rouseau his French counterpart in November, the work on the displays and the history text accelerated.  This work continued unabated for fifteen months at which stage Nigel Cave and Michael Barker started on the text of the Visitor Centre guidebook. (See HISTORIANS, below)

It had been mutually agreed that the Thiepval visitor centre history would concentrate on military aspects, plus mourning / remembrance and Lutyens, leaving the Historial to continue with their excellent wider general and social history of the Great War.

The Thiepval Project had always been conscious of the intrusive nature of any earthmoving on the battlefields and considered that would be especially so at Thiepval.  The Durand Group (See below) carefully surveyed the land and together with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission prepared a protocol that the Conseil Géral gave to all their contractors. The Durand group then attended all the earth movements and prepared a full detailed report. (See below). It was also arranged that Priests from the three Nations should attend the site prior to any works taking place.  It was just below where the priests had been standing that the remains of six Germans were found; there was unfortunately no personal identification and the remains were respectfully removed in small coffins by the Sépultures Militaires, taken to the Commonweal War Graves Commission morgue and then taken in charge by the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge. Otherwise the land was virtually clean apart from the usual harvest of exploded and unexploded shells including one a massive 15″ Royal Naval shell; no barbed wire or usual trench and battlefield debris. The place had been thoroughly cleaned at the time of the building of the Memorial.

Meanwhile all the architectural, planning and preparatory work was continuing on the Somme with Michael Barker and Frank Sanderson attending numerous meetings chaired by Alain Petitjean. In the early summer of  2003 the combined tenders for the building and earthmoving were advertised, but not enough interest was created at the price budgeted for and this caused delay. The tender was then split into two parts, still within the same overall budget, and Appia Somme began preliminary earth moving in July 2003.  In September 2003 there was an official laying of a foundation stone by Sénateur Fernand Demilly and Sir Frank Sanderson in the presence of the Mayor, Madame Geneviève Potié MBE and Councillor Roger Thomas, Chairman of the East Sussex County Council and in November 2003 Appia deepened their excavations and Léon Grosse commenced the construction of the sunken building. It was fortunate that the weather remained relatively dry during the winter and it was highly commendable that the building was ready for the public to enter on 1st July 2004. All in less than seven and a half months from the first foundations going in.

In February 2004, before the final earth moving was due to take place, it was noticed that the bus park was too near ground level and in the direct line of sight between visitors arriving past the Church and the top of the Memorial.  The Conseil Géral agreed that the Thiepval Project could fund the extra expense of lowering the buses and creating the type of landscape that Lutyens might have designed.  Philip Russel-Vick of enplan of Tunbridge Wells, generously agreed to work with Plan01 on this feature, and the end result has been commended by all.  It really does look as if the present landscape has been there for ever and that intelligent use has been made of an existing natural hollow in which to place the Centre.

The Royal opening ceremony took place on Monday 27th September, the eighty-eighth anniversary of the day that the 18th Division finally forced the remnants of the 26th (Würtemburg) Division out of the eastern edge of the village that they had occupied for two years less one day.

All the arrangements were made by Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Mather who had great experience of arranging Royal events.  Yet again the Thiepval Project had attracted the top person in the field.  Not only did he mastermind the most perfect ceremony, but also had his own Regiment, the Grenadier Guards provide a band and Guardsmen to accompany each carriage on the train and then on each bus that drove with police escort from the TGV railway station to Thiepval. The guest list was impressive, all Donors having been invited. Eurostar generously offered the special Entente Cordiale train that had carried HM The Queen to Paris, for use by the Thiepval Project for a whole day at an exceedingly reasonable price and 350 Donors boarded at Waterloo and Ashford for an impressive day outing.

Those on board with HRH The Duke of Kent included, The Earl Haig who had been at the unveiling ceremony of the Memorial on 1st  August 1932 as  a special guest of HRH The Prince of Wales (his father the Field Marshall and first Earl having died in 1928), The Earl Kitchener, The Viscount Ridley, a grandson of Sir Edwin Lutyens and a former Commonwealth War Graves Commissioner, Richard Kellaway, Director-General of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Robert Crawford, Director-General of the Imperial War Museum and many many others including the In-Pensioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. 

Others travelled to Thiepval independently and these included Sir John Holmes HM Ambassador to France, HRH The Herzog of Würtemburg (whose helicopter unfortunately could not land due to low cloud) the Military Attachés from many Commonwealth countries,  and again many Donors. Also present was the Thetford Grammar School choir, who partnered by the band, providing appropriate music throughout the ceremonies.

The ceremony took place on alongside the Visitor Centre on French territory and the Conseil Géral were the hosts in a large tent. The French party was led by the Préfet de région Monsieur Pierre Mirabeau and Sénateur Pierre Dubois the President du Conseil Géral de la Somme. Also present were Madame Claude Dulamont the Sous Préfète who had been in charge of the Royal visit arrangements, Sénateur Alain Gest and Sénateur Fernand Demilly and the Mayor of Thiepval Madame Geneviève Potié and Alain Petitjean.

The cutting of the ribbon was performed by HRH and M. Mirabeau assisted by Émilie Poupard and Jonty Leggett whose French and British great uncles Jean-Baptiste Pasquier and Charles Skey had both been Killed in Action near Thiepval.

Emilie and Jonty 

After the opening ceremony HRH and the Préfet laid a joint Franco-British wreath at the Great War Stone (designed by Lutyens) under the memorial.  (For better descriptions of the opening ceremony see "FINAL NEWSLETTER", and "PHOTOGRAPHS" )

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When this Project commenced it was assumed that telling of the history of the great battle would be one of the more straightforward items on the agenda.  The general feeling was that the history of the battle should be told in a form that would be recognisable to the men who fought, and that as much as possible it should be the story of individual men rather than a list of impersonal statistics.

It was only when we had our first history meeting with our French partners that we realised that there is more than one way of recounting history.  Our own ideas inevitably led to a rather detailed story that would allow a visitor to understand how their grandfather's actions on a given day fitted into the flow of the Battle of the Somme. This was considered by some at the meeting to be a rather old fashioned approach in an era when few veterans were still around and Europe was now more interested in how the Nations had moved on from the 'Century of World Wars'. The solution to this problem, suggested by the French Project Leader, was that the history exhibition should become an entirely British affair and be funded, designed, written and constructed in the UK and shipped over to Thiepval.

It was mutually agreed that the history in Thiepval visitor centre should concentrate on the military aspects, plus mourning / remembrance and Lutyens, leaving the Historial to continue with their existing excellent wider general and social history of the Great War.

This proved to be an inspired solution, but our next task was to find some volunteer British historians with the time and energy to devote to what turned out to be a considerable undertaking. 

As had happened before with the Thiepval Project, a team of brave volunteers came together, and working closely with Cube3, the Exhibition Designers, produced a clear and concise history that has been widely acclaimed.  It presents the facts of the Battle, and places the Battle into the chronology of the Great War. It makes plain that this was a Franco-British coalition battle and also gives information on the German army. Above all it tries to make this the story of the men who were embroiled in these terrible events. The story as told at Thiepval finishes at the Armistice and does not draw conclusions; as The Duke of Kent said in his speech at the opening ceremony - that task is left to the visitor.

Brother Nigel Cave, the editor of the Battleground Europe series (he also leads the Western Front Association prayers at the Cenotaph on 11th November) kindly assumed the lead role and was strongly supported by Professor Peter Simkins, recently retired from the position of Senior Historian at the Imperial War Museum.  Michael Stedman also participated in this team and additionally was much involved with the maps and contemporary photography, including the Somme panoramas. Michael Barker who wrote all the non-military text was in constant attendance.  Advice was also given by Professor Richard Holmes, Colonel Jack Sheldon, Clive Priestley the Secretary to the Fundraising Committee, Helen McPhail and others.

Sir Robert Crawford the Director-General of the Imperial War Museum generously put the resources of the museum at the disposal of the Project and nearly all the photographs in the exhibition and the film footage comes from that source. Caroline Fontaine of the Centre de recherches de l'Historial also assisted and provided photographs.

Nigel Cave, Peter Simkins and Michael Stedman gave days of their time condensing the panel texts. This was necessary because they had to be re-produced in three languages and space was limited.  The three films were very much the work of Peter Simkins and Michael Stedman.  The military section of the guidebook was written by Nigel Cave, with assistance from Peter Simkins and the Lutyens and Memory sections were written by Michael Barker.

The emphasis on the men was greatly assisted by the use of six hundred photographs of the Missing. These were selected from a collection being put together by Ken and Pam Linge ken@klinge.demon.co.uk that is growing by the day as they find photographs and details of more men.

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The Département of the Somme advertised throughout Europe for architects interested in competing for building the Centre. Forty applicants came forward. The Conseil général then set up a jury and invited Paul Lutyens, a great nephew of Sir Edwin, who has an architectural practice in Paris, Michael Barker a British architect representing the Lutyens Trust, the Mayor of Thiepval and Frank Sanderson to serve on it. The other members of the jury were members of the Somme Planning Committee.

The preparatory work in assembling the documents for this for this jury was done by three members of  the Property Department of the Somme plus Peter Craven of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The forty applicants were reduced down to four, of whom two were British. These four were then engaged to produce plans.

The final vote of the jury took place in November 2001 in Amiens and the choice fell on an architectural practice based in Paris - PLAN 01. The very good runner-up was a British architect, but unfortunately, probably due to the expenses of running a project from London, his fees were much higher than his French rival.

"PLAN 01 consists of a group of four architectural practices based in Paris. They work together on projects of symbolic importance – such as the Thiepval Visitor Centre, and a similar centre in the Vendée in western France. http://www.plan01.com/

The four practices are: KOZ architectes, Bocabeille+Prego architectures, Atelier Du Pont and Phileas. They all work closely with associated technical partners.

The lead practice for the Thiepval Visitor Centre was KOZ who had recently completed a fire station at Tours in the Loire valley and a wooden villa on the Atlantic coast near Bordeaux. Other recent works by the Group include the French embassy in the Cape Verde Islands, the French ambassador’s residence in Kingston, Jamaica, the renovation of the Versailles Congress Hall and the Biotechnology University near the harbour in Boulogne."

The two main architects dealing personally with the Thiepval Project were Nicolas Ziesel and Dominique Vity.

"The surroundings of the Visitor Centre were planned by P&L, landscape designers, assisted by Enplan of Tunbridge Wells. The feeling of transparency through the Centre towards the wooded canopy beyond was developed by RFR, structural engineers, who designed the glass halls of the Roissy - Charles de Gaulle airport. (Not the part that fell down!)   Delta Fluides, the utility engineers who had worked on a new school in Peronne,  "concentrated on user comfort."

The building, built by Leon Grosse, is a blend of traditional and modernist and the design has attempted to be a tribute to Lutyens which avoids the risk of pastiche. The massive brick ramparts extend the length of the north end of the building and then cross though the interior of the building to the other side. The south end of the building which contains the exhibition, is a simple glass enclosed area that gives maximum scope to the exhibition designer.   The bricks used are an exact copy of the "small French pink bricks" employed by Lutyens on his memorial and are laid in the same pattern; the locating and purchasing of these special bricks was arranged through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who also donated some Accrington bricks for the terrace that were left over from the refacing of the memorial twenty years ago.

The Centre is sunk into the ground and is approached by sloping walkways (trenches?) so as to minimise the impact on the Somme landscape and the Lutyens memorial only 200 yards away . There are 200 m³ for exhibition space, 140 m³ of public area including reception desk and shop and another 140 m³ for the services and office space.

Many people were apprehensive concerning the locating of a Visitor Centre near to the hallowed ground of the Memorial, but the Plan01 building in its restrained sunken position and with the high quality of its imaginative construction has been the cause of much pleasure.  As Richard Holmes said recently after taking a high-level tour to Thiepval  " Even those who had previously been critical were wholly enthusiastic, and this says much for the way the Project has been designed and laid out"


 This aerial picture shows the Centre in place.

Philippe Feret

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A short list of British exhibition designers was prepared with the aid of the Imperial War Museum, and candidates were invited to present portfolios of their work. After careful study of their presentations and in consultation with the Conseil général of the Somme, Graham Simpson Design Consultants were appointed as the exhibition designers to the Project.

"Graham Simpson is a specialist in museum and gallery design and project management, having worked in the past with the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and The Science Museum in London. He was joined on this project by M2 Graphic Design and Communication, who amongst other clients, had worked with the Design Museum and Urbis. The M2 team leaders were David Edgell, Duncan Youel and Tony Lyons."

A separate joint company was formed for this Project:- Cube3 Exhibitions Ltd.

In close cooperation with the historians and Michael Barker of the Lutyens Trust, an impressive exhibition has been mounted with the text in three languages. The main central area concentrates on the 1916  Battles of the Somme, but there is also a unique set of 10 large panels and an interactive map covering the period 1914 - 1918, so as to put the Somme and 1916 into geographical and chronological perspective within the Great War.  One large panel also covers the events on the Somme in 1918, and the whole of the west side of the exhibition is devoted to the way that the Nations have remembered the events of the 1914 - 1918 war, including panels on Civic Grief, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Sir Edwin Lutyens and Reconstruction of the Somme after the war. A set of three short films: 'The Somme in the Great War', 'Memory' and 'Thiepval' were commissioned from Cube3/ M2 (Duncan Youel) and are shown continuously in the specially built audio-visual Theatre.

Please click on picture for larger plan, use back button in your browser to return to this page

A guidebook to the exhibition was produced written by Nigel Cave and Michael Barker with a second edition for the Centenary in 2014.

A very special effect has been created at the entrance to the Centre by the large architectural model of the memorial made by Andrew Ingham & Associates of London www.andrewingham.co.uk and by a panel of six hundred photographs of men whose names are inscribed on the memorial. 

The research necessary for this panel is part of an ongoing programme being undertaken by Ken and Pam Linge. pam_ken.linge@btinternet.com

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"THE FRENCH CONNECTION" - Crucial support from the Department of the Somme.

One of the most pleasing and important aspects of this project has been the French Connection. This is especially so because 2004 was the centenary of the Entente Cordiale.

When Sir Frank Sanderson first wrote to the then Mr. George Robertson at the MOD, it was in the hope that the UK Government would take on the Project in the same manner as the Canadian, Australian and South African Governments had done with their visitor centres and Great War Memory in France. This was not to be.

It was therefore good news indeed when, at a meeting of Brigadier Andrew Gadsby from the Embassy and Sir Frank Sanderson with Madame Geneviève Potié MBE, the Mayor of Thiepval and Sénateur Fernand Demilly (then Président of the Conseil général of the Somme), the Sénateur suggested that the Conseil Général de la Somme not only undertake the construction the Visitor Centre, but also match pound for pound the £300,000 that the UK team were at that time proposing to raise privately in the British Isles. The Sénateur subsequently wrote to the Ambassador and received confirmation that the British Government was very grateful and would have no objection to the Département undertaking this Project.

The task of overseeing the whole of the French effort was undertaken by Alain Petitjean the Joint Chief Executive of the Conseil Général de la Somme, without whose devotion the Project would never have been completed.

A further key offer was that the Département would apply for EU Regional funds and it then subsequently suggested that the Département's Historial de la Grande Guerre (museum) of Péronne should undertake the running of the Centre. This was splendid news as the long term management of the Centre by a knowledgeable and expert organisation was now guaranteed. We could not have hoped for more and the  Historial staff are now in residence greeting visitors.

With encouragement from Alain Petitjean the British end then applied for Interreg IIIA  cross-border EU funds from Guildford.  The application was successful.

The opening ceremony was also very much a joint Franco-British affair, with all the local arrangements being made by the Conseil Géral who were the hosts on 27th September 2004. The wider French arrangements for the Royal visit were undertaken by the Sous Préfète in Péronne, Madame Claude Dulamont.

It is the French Connection at this Franco-British site that guarantees the future of the venture. It would never have been possible to create a really successful Centre without the active support of Sénateur Demilly and his successors Sénateur Alain Gest and Sénateur Daniel Dubois, and also Madame Geneviève Potié the Mayor. We are truly indebted to them all and to the whole of the Départemental team.

The Battle of the Somme commenced on the 132nd day of Verdun, and the Franco-British cooperation evident at that time, was recreated in miniature at Thiepval nearly ninety years later.  Real proof that the Entente Cordiale works at local level.

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Because the Centre was to play host to a large number of visitors each year it was essential to give thought as to what would go on within the building and the surrounding area, for this reason we consulted widely. The Département of the Somme and their Historial de la Grande Guerre  en.historial.org/  are now managing the Centre and we are grateful to our friends at the Imperial War Museum www.iwm.org.uk/  the Commonwealth War Graves Commission www.cwgc.org (who most kindly donated some bricks left over from the refacing of the memorial) and the National Trust www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ for all the assistance they provided. Our gratitude is also due to Michael Barker of the Lutyens Trust for all his architectural and exhibition work and advice and also to Phillip Russell Vick of enplan of Tunbridge Wells for  the landscaping work he did for us.

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The Durand Group www.durandgroup.org.uk (For Historical Research into Subterranean Military Activities) is a voluntary mainly British group representing a wide range of specialist skills. It includes serving and retired military officers, historians, specialists in Great War artefacts, engineering, surveying, archaeology, construction and explosives.

For several years they have been engaged on work to investigate the extensive Great War tunnels and dugouts beneath the Canadian Vimy Memorial Site and have investigated, and in some cases had to disarm, several large British and French mines (one had 6,000 lb of explosive). They are now also working at the Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park just north of Thiepval.

They kindly assisted the Thiepval Visitor Centre and charted all available information concerning German trenches and bunkers on the site of the Centre. One of their members, a schoolmaster in Germany, researched the Thiepval records of the 26th (Württemberg) Reserve Division. These records survived the Second World War and are located in Stuttgart. They are fascinating.

This information was combined with British Military Engineers and Military Staff records, Allied war trench maps, aerial photographs and all other available information and marked out on plans of the site. Deep German dugouts were shown near by, but deep drilling and subsequent excavations failed to locate them. They had probably been filled in either during the war or at the time of the building of the Memorial.

As part of this work Phillip Robinson arranged for a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey of the land. Dr. Ken Hamilton of Bradford University kindly undertook this task. With the aid of David Hedges a member of the Durand Group and Carol Nubbert, our own keeper of donors records, the whole of our plot was minutely surveyed. Their  report agreed with Phillip Robinson's forecast that the site would be  just pulverised battlefield with comparatively little war debris.

This was subsequently proved to be correct and the professionals were amazed as to how clean our site was. We suspect that this area was ‘super cleared’ at the time of the building of the Lutyens Memorial.  This is possibly where the Memorial construction HQ was located. Apart from a considerable amount of shrapnel and the usual harvest of exploded and unexploded shells, including one unexploded 15" howitzer shell fired by the Royal Marine Artillery, the land was nearly clean; no barbed wire, no metal trench supports, no battlefield debris.

We did however find the remains of six German soldiers, their nationality being identified by remaining pieces of uniform and equipment. The Remains were professionally removed by the French Sépultures Militaires, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge. We went to great lengths to make certain that full respect was show during the earthmoving on this site and we are most grateful to the National graves organisations, the contractors and the Durand Group for all their work.  Apart from the earth that had to be moved for construction or landscaping purposes, no other earth was touched, and it remains undisturbed.

During excavations Mike Hibberd, a member of  the Durand Group and formally of the Imperial War Museum or a colleague was on site at all times to supervise digging and to log and label finds.  The resulting report covers each hour of each day that earth moving took place.  To view the report in Microsoft Word Format click here.  There is also a copy at the centre.

Durand Group members who attended excavations included  Phillip Robinson, David Hedges, Ian Jones, Jack Sheldon and also Taff Gillingham.  Our sincere thanks are due to these kind friends as well as to, Ken Hamilton and all the Durand Group for all they have done to safeguard the military / archaeological nature of this site.

Respect for the Dead and Missing has been our primary concern.

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All that is done of structure should be for all and for equality of honour” Edwin Lutyens

As you approach Thiepval along the D73 the towering shape of Lutyens's finest memorial is visible from afar, riding the horizon and brooding over the landscape of the Somme.

For the British, Thiepval - the Memorial to the Missing - is perhaps one of the most familiar images of northern France, a complex stepped pyramidal structure built of brick with some stone detailing and pierced by a great arch with a series of intersecting smaller arches.

It carries the names of over 72,000 soldiers missing on the Somme. Such a site, and the vast numbers of those who vanished mainly between July and November 1916, demanded an equally vast solution. Lutyens therefore employed both his aesthetic skills and mastery of geometry to produce this haunting yet cathedral-like structure on which to record the names of the fallen.

Built during the years 1927 - 1932, rising to a height of 44.2 metres at its summit with a main arch 21.5 metres high by 10.5 metres wide, the red brick and Portland stone appear from different angles to be sometimes solid, sometimes light and ethereal with, as has been written “lofty arches where the souls of the lost fly like angels”

The Thiepval Project has been more than conscious that any design for a Visitor Centre should not be an imitative pastiche of the great original but rather an embodiment of the same intellectual and aesthetic approach that was employed by Lutyens in his day. 


England’s greatest and most prolific architect since Christopher Wren, his career lasted more than half a century from the reign of Queen Victoria, whose Empire spanned the globe, until the Second World War when, before his death on New Year’s Day 1944, he drew up plans for a National Theatre and the post-war reconstruction of London. 

Born in London, the son of a retired soldier and animal artist, with little formal education or architectural training he precociously established his own practice at the age of nineteen.  In the same year he met Gertrude Jekyll, artist and celebrated garden designer, who became his mentor and with whom he had a fertile collaboration which lasted several decades, creating sophisticated vernacular country houses and beautifully planned and imaginatively landscaped gardens, mainly in Surrey, including Munstead Wood for her in 1893.  He married Lady Emily Lytton in 1897 by whom he had five children. 

His work, while romantic in inspiration became classical in discipline yet complex and often abstract in design, always executed with excellent craftsmanship using fine materials.  From his British pavilion for the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900, Lutyens went on to dominate the Edwardian era as a builder of new country houses often for new fortunes, and developed a personal ‘Georgian’ and ‘Queen Anne’ vernacular.  With Heathcote in Yorkshire built in 1906, he revealed himself as a great mannerist architect. 

With the decision in 1911 of the new King and Emperor, George V, to transfer the capital of the British Empire in India from Calcutta to Delhi, Lutyens became an imperial architect. With his new Viceroy’s House at New Delhi, he created the greatest palace of modern times.  Larger than Versailles, it preoccupied him until its inauguration in 1931. 

After the Great War, the genius of Lutyens to express the mourning on behalf of the nation became apparent to the general public with his Cenotaph in Whitehall whose abstract symbolism captured their imagination and made him widely known.  It was the first of his many war memorials, monuments and military cemeteries in Britain and in France and further afield, of utmost originality and beautifully landscaped, which gravely and movingly paid tribute to the Fallen.  In 1918, the Imperial War Graves Commission, which came into being largely through the energies of Fabian Ware, appointed the leading architects of the day: Lutyens, Herbert Baker, Reginald Bloomfield and later Charles Holden, with their teams of assistant architects, for the vast undertaking of creating permanent memorials and burial grounds of the Great War – the ‘Silent Cities’ as Kipling called them.  With its tremendous presence, the towering Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, brooding over the killing fields of the bloodiest conflict in British military history – the Battle of the Somme – is his greatest achievement in this domain, which with his others in France: Arras, Étaples and Villers-Bretonneux for the Australians, came at the height of his powers of imagination.  The Great War Stone, a monolith by Lutyens and Bloomfield’s Cross of Sacrifice were placed in almost all the cemeteries.  One important feature was that no distinction was to be made between officers and men; all headstones were of the same form. 

After the Great War, there were fewer country houses, but commissions came in for banks and commercial premises in the City of London such as Britannic House and Reuters and blocks of flats such as Grosvenor House, Park lane.   What would have been his greatest work; the Roman Catholic Liverpool cathedral (1929 41) was curtailed by the War, only its crypt was built.  Given his small office and the exigencies of travel and communication, his output of some 600 commissions in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy, Hungary, America, South Africa and India is astonishing.  Knighted in 1918, President of the Royal Academy from 1938 until his death; in 1942 he was the first architect to be awarded the Order of Merit. 


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