“Time will not dim the glory of their deeds”

“Time will not dim the glory of their deeds”

General John J. Pershing

Sensitive and engaging interpretation for visitors to commemorative sites

The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) has a vital mandate, to be the guardians of America’s overseas commemorative cemeteries and memorials. The agency operates and maintains 25 American cemeteries, 26 memorials, monuments and markers in 16 countries. It maintains and preserves these sites and the memories of those many Americans commemorated in foreign fields in the pursuit of freedom and democracy.

The ABMC works to fulfil the vision of its first chairman, General of the Armies John J. Pershing who as commander of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I, promised that “time will not dim the glory of their deeds”. Recently the ABMC has been working with Haley Sharpe Design (hsd) on the interpretive design of a number of their commemorative sites.

Over recent years there has been a change in the demographics of visitors to the cemeteries and memorials.  A growing number of visitors have less understanding of the atrocities and reality of war. There are no surviving veterans of World War I and World War II veterans’ numbers are dwindling fast. These factors are driving a review of interpretive approaches and the use of new media at ABMC’s sites.  

hsd Interpretive Planner, Claire Nunn, who has been working on the ABMC projects, commented, “Working with ABMC on developing their sites is a real privilege. We’ve been looking at creative and respectful ways of presenting the stories of those who are laid to rest at the sites, so that visitors can better appreciate their contribution and role in the history of American military activity overseas.”

Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Cemetery Visitor Center

The Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Cemetery commemorates the birthplace of American combat aviation, and serves as a symbol of the Franco-American comradeship during World War I. The site honours the American volunteer pilots who flew with French squadrons during the Great War and is the final resting place for some of America’s first combat aviators and French Officers. In January 2017 ABMC officially assumed ownership and responsibility for the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Cemetery, making it the ninth commemorative World War I cemetery administered by the agency.

The team at hsd has been assisting with an analysis of the visitor experience, exhibit planning and interpretative design at the memorial site. A new visitor center with associated exhibition is due to open autumn 2019.

Cambridge American Cemetery

The Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial site is the final resting place for those servicemen and women who died in World War II, many during the Battle of the Atlantic and air bombardment of northwest Europe.

hsd was commissioned to review, evaluate and assess the current exhibition and provide recommendations for an improved and sustainable visitor experience. A new visitor experience that sensitively interprets the human stories at the heart of the site has been proposed, drawing upon imagery, engaging stories and enhancing a sense of place through poetry and remembrance.

Normandy American Cemetery

Significantly, and most recently, hsd has been working with ABMC on the redevelopment of the Visitor Centre exhibition at the Normandy American Cemetery which overlooks ‘Omaha Beach’. This will be installed in time for the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings in June 2019.

The landings and Normandy Campaign were vital for the Allies gaining a foothold on mainland Europe, and after many costly battles, the Campaign led to the liberation of Paris. Many thousands of lives were lost during the invasion and battles. Over 9,000 soldiers lie buried at the cemetery with over 1,500 names inscribed on the Walls of the Missing.

Paul Caygill, one of the Designers at hsd working with the ABMC team on the Normandy site, commented, “For the visitor centre we worked closely with ABMC to develop a clearer, chronological narrative and combined this with the use of powerful large scale imagery from the invasion. In particular we wanted to focus on conveying the importance and reality of D-Day to younger visitors, to ensure that the sacrifices made here are never forgotten.”

Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument

The monument at Pointe du Hoc was erected by the French to honour the American Second Ranger Battalion who scaled the 100-foot cliffs to seize German artillery that could have fired on American troops landing on ‘Omaha’ and ‘Utah’ beach on D-Day.  Commissioned to support Arcadis Design and Consultancy architects, hsd has reviewed the visitor experience at Pointe du Hoc; the interpretation across the site, its effectiveness and physical site presentations to see how the historic structures are being used by visitors.

New interpretive themes and messages have been defined along with an identifying tone, visitor experiences, interpretive locations, approach to access to historic structures, emotional connections, chronology, and an indication of the media that could be applied to enhance the whole experience.

A Reflecting Approach

For all of ABMC’s sites it is very important that visitors are aware that they are stepping on to hallowed ground, therefore the interpretation for these sites allows for areas of refection, enabling visitors to absorb the true meaning of the themes and messages of sacrifice and comradery experienced during their visit.