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NigelS
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Interesting item. A monumental and commendable task.

The following statement about in situ re-engraving caught my attention:

The process starts by sanding down the entire headstone followed by the re-engraving of the inscription by hand, using a drill, powered by compressed air. To finish, a fine sanding machine is used to smooth down the whole headstone.

Makes me wonder how much thinner the original stone will become and whether the process will leave the stone more susceptible to erosion and other destabilising processes. No doubt this has been considered and will largely depend on the qualities of the particular stone type.

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Having discussed the maintenance of the headstones with an executive from within CGWC, all of the headstones have a limited life in that they will all need to be replaced as time goes on. The original quality of the Portland Stone that was used was fairly good but over the years, the quality has slowly dropped. In fact, they are now starting to use an Italian marble for new replacements. The marble ages to a similar texture (feel) and colour to the originals after some months in the "open".

One of the largest reasons for headstone replacement is that the original cannot be returned to first class condition by re-facing and re-engraving or that the original Portland had a small crack or fissure and water ingress has caused splitting due to the freezing of the water that has entered into the headstone, plus other various reasons.

By the way, all replacement/new headstones for any CWGC Cemetery in the word are produced in Arras at their facility located there.

Regards, Peter

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work in progress ................

post-108-1236775173.jpg

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>><< The following statement about in situ re-engraving caught my attention:

The process starts by sanding down the entire headstone followed by the re-engraving of the inscription by hand, using a drill, powered by compressed air. To finish, a fine sanding machine is used to smooth down the whole headstone.

Makes me wonder how much thinner the original stone will become and whether the process will leave the stone more susceptible to erosion and other destabilising processes.>><<

At first reading this sounds as if the headstone is sanded down by the depth of the inscription before a complete re-inscription - which would make it significantly thinner. However, if the inscription has a V section and the re-engraving does not involve any change of design or lettering, surely only a thin surface skim is required to get back to an "original quality" surface, as the "re-engraving" then has the effect of taking off a similar skim from the sides of the V of the inscription as it is deepened only by the depth of the surface skim?

David

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Having seen Tom's photo and the one on the CWGC website I'm still curious from a technical viewpoint to see the full process. I wonder how the initial sanding back is carried out in order to achieve a uniformly even finish from top to bottom. The degree of difficulty will be increased if the sanding is done whilst the stone is in a vertical position.

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Would it be possible to protect the stones with some kind of varnish, or some anti weathering substance? After cleaning and maintenance, it could help slow erosion?

Mike.

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The re-surfacing is done to remove the fluffy appearance that some of the headstones develop on their external (weathered) front surfaces. They are not fully ground down as the engraving team follows the original engraving and "sharpens" it back to near original. They are highly skilled as I have seen their work first hand out in the cemeteries. I admit that I have not seen them during the full face-grinding process nor have I seen them on "their bellies" re-touching the family message. The full team that I saw at work one day all seemed to be in their 20s and 30s and they are selected for this work because they are good and that they have the patience. They are considered as elite workers doing a very special job.

The headstones are not treated. Someone in the CWGC tried a sealant some years ago and the result is that occassionally, the entire front face (the treated area) separates from the body of the headstone and collapses in a heap of rubble. The problem is that it seemed a good idea when done but time has demonstrated that the long-term effects are disastrous. You cannot seal the front, back, sides and top because moisture will be drawn up from the soil. Anyway, the CWGC, at this time, say that they will not experiment with any further chemicals on the headstones. As mentioned in my post above, they are now trying (a more expensive) Italian marble. It has a longer anticipated life-span and when weathered looks just like (very close) the original Portland Stone. The reason for the marble is that consistent good quality Portland Stone is rare these days.

Whilst we are discussing the re-engraving, I had reason to email the Australian Ambassador in Paris and the Director of the CWGC in Arras to compliment the CWGC in regard to the extreme kindness that they displayed to one of our Australian tour guests. Whilst looking for a grave, the supervisor came over to assist as we were working our way towards his engraving team. He, with the utmost care, lead the family member into their cordoned-off work area and over to the marker, which was an on-ground rectangle of Portland Stone. As the family member shed a tear for their kin, as each engraver noted her presence in amongst them, they silently ceased work and carefully walked away. The supervisor then guided us others through an alternate route into the work area so that we could all be together. Splendid stuff!!!!!

Regards, Peter

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Peter

Thanks for clarifying these points. I would think that if the Italian marble is more durable it will be a more cost effective replacement in the longer term, despite the initial high cost.

Interested to know whether the Italian stone has also been used in the high altitude CWGC cemeteries in Italy on the Asiago Plateau. The headstones in Boscon British Cemetery were apparently replaced in the summer of 2008.

Regarding the sealants, I have one source that says the Commission used a sealer on a very large number of headstones over the period 1920 to 1951. After time, the Commission noticed that the stones which had been treated were generally in a poorer state than those left untreated. The document doesn't mention whether the poor condition of the treated stones related to their discolouring or fretting or both.

With many porous stones, the major problem, as Peter has mentioned, is that the treated (consolidated) surface can become impermeable to water penetration and evaporation whereas the balance of the stone remains porous. Eventually, with rising and lateral damp, a plane of weakness is created and the stone delaminates. The process can be accentuated where the soils have a high salt content.

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Thanks for that. There's always more to it than meets the eye.

I was also wondering; Does it have to be stone?

There are bound to be some synthetic materials that would last a lot longer. I don't know what material, but I have seen man made stone ( concrete ) that looks very real. Probably a lot cheaper as it can be moulded.

Perhaps that would go against the meaning of the stones.

Just a thought.

Mike

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If the 'marble' referred to above is Botticino, then it is not marble at all but another form of limestone - but more durable. It just looks like marble - with visible veins etc.

I have seen the process at work and, as said above, only a very slight amount of stone is lost in the initial skim and it leaves the surface as smooth as new stone with no discernable reduction in thickness.

True marble has been used on occasions in some parts of the world but rarely. Granite is often used but not on the Western Front.

The skill and dedication/patience of the engravers has to be seen to be believed. Similarly, the care and skill displayed by the workers at the CWGC workshops at Beaurains is outstanding. Not only do they manufacture/repair the headstones and other stonework here but also undertake amazing renovation of all the wooden and metal structures from their sites (gates etc) with the same skilful care. It is a home for real craftsmen.

Concrete was tried a long time ago but it was a failure as not being durable enough.

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post-42838-1237416157.jpg

the attached pic hows the veining in a new headstone at Etaples The engraving was so fine I took a close up of the badge.

Ken

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