THE Commonwealth War Graves Commission will be opening Harrogate’s Stonefall Cemetery for free tours, talks and interactive activities as part of Heritage Open Days 2023.

Visitors can learn about the CWGC, which commemorates the 1.7 million Commonwealth men and women who lost their lives during both world wars, and the stories of members of the Commonwealth forces buried at Stonefall.

There's also chance to learn how CWGC staff, supporters and local volunteers preserve the cultural, horticultural and architectural heritage and ensure that the stories of those who died are told. On Wednesday, September 13, visitors can try stone engraving, learn about headstone maintenance and hear from horticultural experts. Other activities include headstone rubbing and an activity trail for children.

With more than 1,000 Commonwealth war graves, Stonefall is one of the largest CWGC sites in the North. Most burials are of airmen who died in the Second World War flying from bomber command bases 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’, the focus this year is on the architecture and horticulture at the site. The shelter at Stonefall, built of Yorkshire stone, was designed by CWGC’s principal architect, Sir Edward Maufe, who was from Ilkley. Sir Edward was born Edward Muff and was part of the family who owned Brown Muff & Co department store in Bradford - often referred to as ‘Harrods of the North’.

The Muff family name was changed to Maufe in 1909 giving rise to the ditty ‘In Bradford ‘tis good enough,To be known as Mrs Muff, But in Ilkley by the river Wharfe,’Tis better to be known as Mrs Maufe!’

Stonefall Cemetery is the only site in Yorkshire to have a Stone of Remembrance, a feature of sites where more than 1,000 casualties are commemorated.

One of the stories highlighted at the Heritage Open Day is of more than 30 men who were part of the bomber crew on a mission to bomb Chemnitz, Germany, on the evening of March 5, 1944. More than 250 aircraft were in the air above the Vale of York waiting to fly out on operations. Extreme weather conditions that weren’t forecast saw planes ice up and some collided, while 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: “The Heritage Open Days at Stonefall Cemetery are a great opportunity to learn how the CWGC honours and cares for 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 tours and talks to interactive activities. Visitors will also learn how our charitable foundation engages thousands of people through volunteering and outreach projects, providing opportunities to explore the legacy of the people, architecture, and heritage of the two world wars.”

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Elizabeth Smith is Public Engagement Co-ordinator (North East), Commonwealth War Graves Commission