The memorial commemorates men of British and South African forces who died in the Somme sector. The dead of other Commonwealth countries, who died on the Somme and have no known graves, are commemorated on national memorials elsewhere.
Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the memorial was built between 1928 and 1932 and is the largest Commonwealth Memorial to the Missing in the world. It was inaugurated by the Prince of Wales(later King Edward VIII) in the presence of Albert Lebrun, President of France, on 1st August 1932. The unveiling ceremony was attended by Lutyens.
The memorial dominates the rural scene and has 16 brick piers, faced with Portland Stone. It was originally built using French bricks fromLille, but was refaced in 1973 with Accrington brick.
The main arch is aligned east to west. The memorial is 140 feet (43 m) high, above the level of its podium, which to the west is 20 feet (6.1 m) above the level of the adjoining cemetery. It has foundations 19 feet (5.8 m) thick, which were required because of extensive wartime tunnelling beneath the structure.
It is a complex form of memorial arch, comprising interlocking arches of four sizes. Each side of the main arch is pierced by a smaller arch, orientated at a right angle to the main arch.
Each side of each of these smaller arches is then pierced by a still smaller arch and so on. The keystone of each smaller arch is at the level of the spring of the larger arch that it pierces; each of these levels is marked by a stone cornice.
This design results in 16 piers, having 64 stone-panelled sides. Only 48 of these are inscribed, as the panels around the outside of the memorial are blank.
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