Discover world war history at local Heritage Open Days

31 August 2023

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) will be opening the doors of Harrogate (Stonefall) Cemetery for free tours, talks, demonstrations, and interactive activities as part of Heritage Open Days 2023.

People attending the heritage days will learn about the history of the CWGC who commemorate the 1.7 million Commonwealth men and women who lost their lives during both world wars. Tours will discuss the remarkable stories of the men and women of the Commonwealth forces who are buried at Stonefall.

Every single Heritage Open Days event is free, including access to many sites that usually charge for admission. For details and opening times, visit

Visitors will learn how CWGC staff, supporters and local volunteers preserve the unique cultural, horticultural and architectural heritage and ensure that the stories of those who died are told. On Wednesday 13th September, members of the public will be invited to try their hand at stone engraving and will learn the importance of headstone maintenance as well as hearing from our horticultural experts. Other activities will include headstone rubbing and an activity trail for children to explore.

The Heritage Open Day will take place on Wednesday 13th September from 11am to 3pm. The following weekend, further tours of the site will take place on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th September.

With more than 1,000 Commonwealth war graves, Harrogate (Stonefall) Cemetery is one of the largest CWGC sites in the North of England. Most burials are of airmen who died during the Second World War flying from the bomber command bases which were established across Yorkshire. More than 600 of the casualties served with the Royal Canadian Air Force and they include two 17-year-olds.

To tie in with the Heritage Open Day theme of ‘Creativity Explored’, particular attention this year is going to be drawn to the architecture and horticulture at the site. The shelter at Stonefall, which is built of Yorkshire stone, was designed by CWGC’s principal architect, Sir Edward Maufe who was from Ilkley. Stonefall Cemetery is unique in the North of England as being the only directly maintained CWGC site. It is also the only site in Yorkshire to have a Stone of Remembrance which is a feature of sites where more than 1,000 casualties are commemorated.

Amongst the stories being highlighted at the Heritage Open Day, will be the stories of more than 30 men who were part of the bomber crew on a mission to bomb Chemnitz, Germany on the evening of the 5th March 1944. On this night over 250 aircraft were in the air above the Vale of York waiting to fly out on operations. Extreme weather conditions that were not forecast saw planes ice up. Sadly, some planes collided and others crashed to the ground. One of the bombers crashed into Nunthorpe Grove in York killing two elderly women as well as most of the crew.

Michele Jennings, Director of the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation, said:

Everyone in Harrogate is very welcome to attend the Heritage Open Days at Stonefall Cemetery. They’re a great opportunity to learn how the CWGC honours and cares for the men and women of the Commonwealth who died in the First and Second World Wars, ensuring they will never be forgotten.

There’ll be plenty going on from fascinating tours and talks to interactive activities such as stone engraving. Visitors will also learn how our charitable foundation engages thousands of people through innovative volunteering and outreach projects, providing opportunities to explore the legacy of the people, architecture, and heritage of the two world wars.

The CWGC honours and cares for the men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the First and Second World Wars, ensuring they will never be forgotten. Funded by six Member Governments, its work began with building, and now maintaining, cemeteries at 23,000 locations all over the world.

To book a free tour at the Open Day or on the 16th / 17th September, visit

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