International Memorial of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette
Their names engraved in the Ring of Remembrance
A century has passed since thousands of men made the ultimate sacrifice in the First World War, yet the duty to honour their memory remains. The commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of the start of hostilities has given rise to an international memorial that extends beyond national commemorations and the traditional national monuments to each nation’s dead. The monument, which was officially opened on 11 November 2014 by the French President, has an unequalled moral force behind it. Positioned on a hillside at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette it overlooks the Artois Plain, the site of France’s largest military cemetery.
Stainless steel, a material for a lasting memorial
The initiative to create an international war memorial was formalised in 2011 by way of an agreement reached between the French region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais and the national government, and was supported by an appeal to the militaries of the affected countries in order to create a list of the victims of the battles of Flanders and Artois. Here, the British Empire, at the height of its powers, paid the heaviest price, suffering 241,214 killed or missing in action, followed by the Germans (173,876) and the French (106,012) not to forget the Belgians, who lost 2,326 men – and others, giving a total of 579,606 names, all of whom accurately listed during the construction of the memorial. So many names, yet each one is faithfully reproduced on the inside surface of the Ring of Remembrance built on the devastated landscape that was so hotly disputed over in 1915. Each name appears in strict alphabetical order, with no distinction made for nationality, rank, or religion, all engraved in capital letters on coloured stainless steel in a series of 500 pleated wall panels. Each panel measuring three metres high by ninety centimetres wide form the centre of the Ring. The total written surface area of 1350 square metres reflects the sheer numbers of men who fell here. One thousand two hundred names are inscribed into each panel, with over 10 million characters being engraved, equivalent to approximately 20 typical books.
Stainless steel was chosen for its corrosion resistance and chemical reactions and its correspondingly long service life. In this case it was supplied by Aperam in its 4404 variant, in bright annealed sheets with a 2mm thickness. The thickness was chosen to ensure that each panel would remain flat and rigid throughout, as they are held in place at the top and bottom with no additional stiffening thus withstanding the pressure from visitors who do not hesitate to trace the names of their ancestors on paper. Cut from 35-tonne coils produced in the Genk factory, the panels were subsequently micro-blasted and given their bronze tone at Rimex Metals in England before being sent to Alès in the south of France where Citynox invested in a laser machine and custom software in order to be able to engrave the approximately 580,000 names into the 500 panels, each a virtual page in this historic record in the form of a giant loop.
A circle of solidarity
Once prepared in this manner, the immense list of victims never ends. The Ring of Remembrance is a litany that continually restarts for all eternity:
According to its designer, the architect Philippe Prost, the Ring provides a concrete embodiment of the fraternal spirit that today’s world demands. Strictly speaking, the circle of deceased soldiers is actually an ellipse with a circumference of 328 metres in the form of a concrete ribbon placed on the hillside and coloured to reflect the war. Its low height is intended as a peaceful symbol, emphasising the precariousness of peace through its position at the base of the slope. The Ring bridges the gap between the heavens and the earth, balanced on a 60-metre balcony that overlooks the plain. As a symbol of unity and eternity, it looks down over a peaceful, natural environment.
The ellipse, which can be read from end to end, clearly stands out against the landscape which otherwise extends towards the horizon, while its visually simple form belies the challenges involved in its creation.
The Ring of Remembrance is a work of art conceived to act as a bridge between the past and present, a role which it fulfils admirably. It is made up of 129 prefabricated ultra-high performance concrete (UHPC) components, with 49 of those acting as pre-stressed segments in view of their position in the landscape, while four cables ensure that the work always remains under tension. In total, less than 5mm of flex is allowed even though each
prefabricated component weighs between 7.5 and 10 tonnes. This feat of engineering blends seamlessly into the ellipse described by the structure’s uniformly smooth shape, while the folds of the large pages of the book on the inside of the Ring are laid out in a similarly perfect loop.