Posted by: michaeldaybath | August 14, 2014

London’s great war memorials

We will remember them: London’s great war memorials, Quadriga Gallery, Wellington Arch, Hyde Park Corner, London, 16 July – 30 November 2014

Royal Artillery Memorial

Royal Artillery Memorial, Hyde Park Corner, London (statue of driver by Charles Sargeant Jagger)

In my report on the recent study day on the conservation of war memorials, I commented that Roger Bowdler of English Heritage had mentioned an upcoming exhibition on war memorials to be held at the Quadriga Gallery in London from 16 June to November. The exhibition was to focus on the six major memorials in London that English Heritage have direct responsibility for, the most well-known being the Cenotaph in Whitehall. I have now managed to visit the exhibition and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in memorials and the remembrance of war.

The main part of the exhibition covers each of the six London memorials in turn. However, it starts – appropriately enough – with reference the vast numbers of people that died in the war, mostly volunteers and conscripts from ordinary families. The exhibits include examples of how the death of soldiers was officially recorded and reported to families during the war, including some documents relating to Private Charles Edmund Dickson, the great uncle of the journalist and writer Jeremy Paxman. Other exhibits in the section include official certificates issued by the French and German authorities as well as less formal representations of death and remembrance in the form of postcards sent from the front. Perhaps the most striking exhibit is a bronze statuette, the sketch model for Charles Sargeant Jagger’s well-known Great Western Railway monument at Paddington station, “A British soldier reading a letter from home.”

The Cenotaph

The Cenotaph, Whitehall (Sir Edwin Lutyens)

Paramount amongst the London memorials is probably the Cenotaph, the focus of the UK’s official remembrance ceremonies every November. The exhibition explains that the Cenotaph was never intended to become a national memorial, but had originally been designed as a temporary structure (built of wood and plaster) for a parade in 1919, but that it had proved so popular with the public that a permanent version in Portland stone was built in time for unveiling on Armistice Day in 1920, the very same day that the “unknown warrior” made his final journey through London to Westminster Abbey. The architect was Edwin Lutyens, some of whose initial sketches are included here. The exhibition also includes other representations of the Cenotaph, including a miniature version that forms part of the Royal London Hospital war memorial and money-boxes made from the wood of the temporary version.

Earl Haig Memorial, Whitehall, London (Alfred Frank Hardiman)

Earl Haig Memorial, Whitehall, London (Alfred Frank Hardiman)

The other five London memorials are quite diverse in their nature. Perhaps the most traditional in form is the equestrian Memorial to Earl Haig, which is also in Whitehall. This is a bronze statue of Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig mounted on a horse, produced by the sculptor Alfred Hardiman. The exhibition notes the controversy over the stylised classical horse, which Haig’s widow would have preferred to have represented the Field Marshal’s own favourite horse, Poperinghe. The exhibition also includes Gilbert Ledward’s sketch of one of the alternative designs for the memorial and an extremely striking photograph of the completed statue being transported across Westminster Bridge on a Pickfords trailer, en route from the foundry in Lambeth.

Memorial to Edith Cavell

Memorial to Edith Cavell, St Martin’s Place, London (Sir George Frampton)

The Memorial to Edith Cavell in St Martin’s Place is unusual amongst First World War memorials in that it represents a woman. Cavell, a nurse in Brussels executed by the Germans for helping Allied soldiers to escape, became a cause celebre for the Allies after her death. The memorial,  including a statue of Cavell, was designed by Sir George Frampton and unveiled in 1920. Cavell’s final words, “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone,” were added later. The exhibition includes several portraits of Cavell as well as representations of other memorials in Brussels, Westminster Abbey and Norwich.

Another civilian memorial, one perhaps less well known, is the Belgian Gratitude Memorial on the Victoria Embankment. This features a bronze group of figures by Victor Rousseau in a half circle of Portland stone designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield. The memorial was built as a token of gratitude from the Belgian people after many refugees from that country fled to Britain during the war. The exhibition includes some of Blomfield’s original plans for the memorial.

The two final memorials in the exhibition can both be found at Hyde Park Corner. Both are military memorials, but they differ in character very greatly. The first is the Machine Gun Corps memorial, which was designed by Francis Derwent Wood and unveiled in 1925. The memorial is quite strange, taking its main inspiration from the Old Testament via the Italian Renaissance. The memorial consists of a nude statue of David holding Goliath’s sword, representing the triumph of justice over might. Either side of the main pedestal  however, are accurate bronze representations of Vickers machine guns covered with laurel wreaths. The main inscription is a quotation from 1 Samuel 18:7, “Saul hath slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands.” This may be an accurate representation of the devastation wrought by machine guns, but is unusual in its directness for a war memorial. The exhibition includes a genuine Vickers .303 machine gun but also some information on Derwent Wood using his modelling skills to help rebuild the faces of soldiers disfigured by war injuries.

Royal Artillery Memorial

Royal Artillery Memorial, Hyde Park Corner, London (Charles Sargeant Jagger)

The other Hyde Park Corner memorial takes us back to Charles Sargeant Jagger. The Royal Artillery Memorial is widely regarded as one of the most outstanding memorials of the First World War. The memorial commemorates the 49,076 members of the Royal Artillery that lost their lives in the war, and takes the form of a 9.2 inch howitzer in Portland stone mounted on a plinth (designed by Lionel Pearson) with reliefs by Jagger. Four bronze artillerymen appear on each side of the memorial, a lieutenant , a driver, a shell-carrier and (unusually for a British memorial) a dead gunner draped in a greatcoat. The reliefs and bronze statues do not shy away from showing the brutality of modern warfare. The exhibition includes a bronze statuette of Jagger’s driver figure as well as some information on the changing context of the memorial, which was originally isolated on a traffic island.

Guards Memorial

Guards Memorial, Horse Guards Parade, London (Gilbert Ledward)

The exhibition continues upstairs with a room mainly concerned with the conservation and listing of memorials, in both of which English Heritage play an important role. There are some comments on the monitoring, cleaning and maintenance of the memorials in its own care, including recent cleaning of both the Cenotaph and the Royal Artillery Memorial. English Heritage also work with the War Memorials Trust and the Wolfson Foundation to help provide grants to support memorial conservation projects elsewhere. The exhibition highlighted some projects, including those related to memorials at Heath Town Park (Wolverhampton) and Mytholmroyd (West Yorkshire), both of which had been subject to vandalism or theft. On the listing of memorials, the exhibition noted that English Heritage (working with the War Memorials Trust and Civic Voice) had a target of 2,500 memorials to list by November 2018. The exhibition includes photographs of some representative English memorials, including:

  • Architectural memorials (e.g. the RAF Memorial on the Victoria Embankment (Blomfield), the Leicester Arch of Remembrance (Lutyens), the Liverpool cenotaph);
  • Crosses (e.g. memorials at Port Sunlight, Oxford, Bath, and East Brent);
  • Depictions of soldiers (e.g. the 24th East Surrey Division Memorial in Battersea Park (Eric Kennington), the Guards Memorial on Horse Guards Parade (Ledward), the Royston war memorial);
  • Depictions of angels (e.g. the Finsbury War Monument (Thomas Rudge), the memorial in Poplar Park to school children killed by air bombing);
  • Unusual memorials (e.g., landscape memorials like the chalk cross at Lenham (Kent), the Waggoners Memorial at Sledmere (East Yorkshire), the memorial carillon at Loughborough).

The room also has a short video playing, showing archive footage (mostly from British Pathé) of most of the London memorials. There is also the opportunity to go out onto the terrace and see two of the featured memorials in situ.

The exhibition runs until the end of November. If you get the opportunity, I would definitely recommend a visit.

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