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New Online Exhibition Reveals Unseen Documents From WW1

'Shaping Our Sorrow' has been launched by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to disclose the "monumental task of honouring the dead"...

A newly discovered photograph of King George V’s passport is shown in the exhibition, which simply states his name as “The King” (Picture: CWGC).

The 'Shaping Our Sorrow' exhibition has been launched by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) to reveal the "monumental task of honouring the dead".

It opens on Monday, featuring previously unseen documents from the First World War. It showcases more than 600 items from its historic archives.

Letters from grieving mothers, images of poet Rudyard Kipling visiting his son's memorial, and a copy of King George V's passport for his battlefield pilgrimage are among the items displayed.

It includes previously unseen archive material, including photographs, heart-breaking personal letters, film, original architectural drawings and plans of the earliest cemeteries and memorials.

The exhibition brings together photos and rare footage from King George V’s 1922 pilgrimage to CWGC’s earliest sites (Picture: CWGC).

Structured around the five stages of grief, the exhibition a gives a unique insight into the difficult and often controversial decisions that helped to shape Remembrance as we know it.

Plans for commemorating the dead of the Great War caused much debate, particularly the decision not to repatriate the fallen.

The Commission wanted to treat all ranks equally and it was felt that by allowing some service personnel to be brought home, particularly those from a wealthy background, the comradeship that had developed between all servicemen at the front would be lost.

The exhibition showcases several petitions, mostly of mothers who’d lost sons in the war - despairing at the decision not to repatriate the dead. 

It highlights the roles of many famous individuals such as Rudyard Kipling, the Commission’s literary adviser, who lost his 18-year-old son John in the war, inspiring the famous poem - 'My Boy Jack'.

John’s grave was not identified in Kipling’s lifetime, and his name was added to the Loos Memorial in France. 

A poignant image from 1930 shows Kipling and his wife attending the unveiling of the memorial (Picture: CWGC).

A multi-media collection enables viewers to examine photos in detail, explore a wealth of digitized archive material, and discover some of the untold stories of the Commission’s early gardeners.

 Andrew Fetherston, Chief Archivist at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, said:

“As the First World War came to an end, it was just the start of the monumental task of honouring the dead.

"Our rituals of remembrance are too often taken for granted, but this exhibition is a stark reminder that commemorating one million people equally, regardless of class and rank, was unprecedented and often very controversial."