Updated: Oct 9, 2022
Over several instalments, we will be delving into the story surrounding the name behind the brand.
Like most stories of historic discovery, the journey starts with a name. This particular name is carved on a portland stone grave marker in a War Cemetery in The Netherlands.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), when created in 1917, had one main purpose; to commemorate uniformly and equally the Commonwealth war dead, regardless of rank, religion, race or creed.
Over one hundred years later, it continues to do this, allowing generations of people to visit and pay their respects to those they knew or know of, from the First and Second World Wars.
Today, the CWGC is responsible for over 1.7 million deceased, in over 150 countries, located in over 23,000 individual burial sites, including 2,500 CWGC built cemeteries and 200 memorials.
In The Netherlands, the CWGC maintains over 470 cemeteries and memorials. One of these cemeteries is situated in the picturesque town of Oosterbeek, just a few miles outside of the City of Arnhem. It is the final resting place for Stanley Douglas Biggs and 1763 more.
Like Stanley Biggs, most of the men buried in this cemetery were killed during The Battle of Arnhem which occurred between 17th - 26th September 1944.
The Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery came into being in June 1945. The location, a field to the north of the town, the suggestion of the Mayor of Oosterbeek, Jan Ter Horst. After the war Jan returned to his home to discover their garden was a mass grave. He and his wife, Kate, who is more well known and closely linked to the Battle of Arnhem than her husband, madeit one of their priorities to ensure the buried had a final resting place that was appropriate.
Mass graves were often the first resting place for the war dead. Stanley Biggs was indeed initially buried with about 20 others in a grave located just outside what was The Tafelberg Hotel, the building being used as a field hospital during the battle.
The Dead are never Dead to us until we have forgotten.” - George Eliot
The design and aesthetics of each CWGC cemetery across the world follows a set standard, ensuring that all who are buried are equally and uniformly treated, avoiding any class distinction. The recognisable layout, with the grass walkways surrounding the portland headstones, The Cross of Sacrifice and Stone of Remembrance were designed by a small army of architects just after the First World War. The intention being to offer a peaceful corner for visitors to pay their respects.
It is when you visit a cemetery, or see a lone headstone in a Churchyard, that you realise how brilliant the architects were in their task. Everything was considered and deliberate.
The Cross of Sacrifice, designed by Reginald Blomfield, with its long sword, blade down, is always present in cemeteries with forty graves or more. It was inspired by the medieval crosses often seen in British churchyards.
The Stone of Remembrance, designed by Edwin Lutyens was actually the idea of writer Rudyard Kipling. It was deliberate in its non-association to any religion, allowing those of all Faiths, or none, to be equally commemorated.
Rudyard Kipling was very heavily associated with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, contributing the phrases found on the Stone of Remembrance, “Their Name Liveth Forevermore” and “Known unto God” for headstones of unknown soldiers.
His involvement was largely down to the loss of his own son in 1916, at The Battle of Loos. During Kiplings lifetime, they never found his son’s body, despite his lifelong search.
Remarkably, John Kipling’s body was identified in 2015, with a headstone now marking his final resting place.
The architects even created plans for when additional graves were to be added, the harsh reality being that not all dead had been accounted for and many were lost in the chaos of war. There are still over 100 men unaccounted for, in The Battle of Arnhem alone. They are instead remembered on the Groesbeek Memorial, but a place is reserved for each one, should their remains ever be discovered.
The process of reburial of those buried in and around the Oosterbeek and Arnhem area began in June 1945, just one month after the cessation of hostilities. Initially cross markers were put in place, while the process of hand carving each gravestone began. It took approximately one week to carve one headstone. It is no surprise that it was not until 1952 that the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery was completed.
Since that day it has remained open, and every year three official ceremonies take place. One for Liberation Day, one for The Battle of Arnhem, and one over the Christmas period.
Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery, to our knowledge, also has a very unique relationship with the local residents of the town. Since 1946 and every year since, school children of local schools are tasked to mind a grave. They research the man, and visit the grave during these ceremonies, placing flowers at the graveside. It is an integral part of their school curriculum.
This active remembrance has led to a continued interest and understanding of what occurred in and around the area between the 17th and 26th September 1944.
Indeed, without the Cemetery the happy accident of stumbling across the name ‘Stanley Biggs’ would never have occurred. It was in 2011 when visiting the town of Oosterbeek that owner and founder, Sophie Bainbridge, visited the War Cemetery.
With no prior ties or connections to The Battle of Arnhem, Sophie sought to pay her respects to any graves that bore her family names (Penny, Plant, Hackett, Bennett and Biggs). Having done this at other cemeteries in the past, it was a complete surprise to find that every name was represented with a grave.
Furthermore, as she began her research of each man, she was surprised to find so much information for each man and their unit. The Battle of Arnhem has always held a key interest with many historians, and fortunately for Sophie, much of the information was readily available in several publications.
But the research into Stanley Biggs revealed much more.
A wealth of information has been unearthed from documentation, images, firsthand accounts, even film footage. So as the years progressed, and with an annual visit to the Cemetery, where a red rose is left on the grave of each man. So when the time came to name the clothing brand, ‘Stanley Biggs’ was the only viable choice.
The research still continues as we hope to piece together more about Stanley Biggs. We have even discovered the Airborne Sleeping Bag that was issued to him during his war service. Amazingly the sleeping bag has found its way to a private collector in the South of France.
Stanley probably left it behind in the UK when he embarked on the glider that would transport him and his unit to the landing zone on 17th September 1944 to join the battle.
To commemorate the man behind the name, a unique representation of Stanley has commissioned. Illustrator and artist Tim Godden has created a unique impression of Stanley Biggs as he would have been during the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944.
Forty-Five Limited Edition Prints, signed and numbered by the Artist, have been created and are available to purchase from our store. With every sale, a donation will be made to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Foundation.
Accompanying this article are previously unseen images from a private collection.
The collection of photographs are from the affects of Lt Alistair Duncan Clarkson, Liaison Officer for 1st Parachute Battalion.
He was killed near to Oosterbeek Church by a Nebelwerfer shell on Thursday 21st September 1944. Interestingly, the CWGC marked his DoD as the following day but the war diary and a first hand account from the man who dug his field grave confirm otherwise.
Please note, these are not to be copied without prior permission.
Read more in 'Remembering Stanley : Part Two'