October 15, 2014
In this, the final in our series looking at London’s World War I memorials, we’re taking a look at one of the city’s most visited monuments – the grave of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.
Located at the west end of the minster nave (pictured is the west front of the abbey inside of which lies the grave), the grave is that of a British soldier whose body was brought back from France and buried on the site on 11th November, 1920. The grave, which also contains soil brought from France, is covered by a slab of black marble from Belgium.
The slab bears an inscription written by Herbert Ryle, then dean of the abbey, which commemorates the “many multitudes” who died during World War I. “They buried him among the kings because he had done good toward God and toward his house”.
It is believed the idea for the memorial was that of a chaplain at the front during the war – Rev David Railton – who in 1916 saw a grave in northern France which featured a cross upon which was written, “An Unknown British Soldier”. He wrote to Ryle about what he’d seen and the idea for the new memorial slowly took shape – albeit with the initial misgivings of some including King George V.
Representing servicemen from the army, navy or air force from anywhere within Britain and its dominions who died in the war and have no other memorial or known grave, the unidentified body which lies in the grave is believed to have been selected at random from among a number bodies of soldiers who died early in the war – accounts suggest they numbered either four or six – and which were exhumed from battle areas at the Aisne, the Somme, Arras and Ypres.
Covered with Union flags, the bodies were taken to a chapel at St Pol on 7th November, 1920, and one selected by Brigadier General LJ Wyatt, commander of troops in France and Flanders.
The three remaining bodies were reburied while the selected remains were placed in two coffins, the outer one made of oak harvested from a tree which had grown at Hampton Court Palace. A 16th century crusader’s sword taken from the Tower of London’s collection was placed in the wrought iron bands of the coffin and it was then covered with a flag which Rev Railton had used as an altar cloth during the war (known as the Ypres or Padre’s Flag, it now hangs nearby in St George’s Chapel at the abbey).
The coffin was then transported on the destroyer HMS Verdun to Dover and then taken by train to Victoria Station before, on the morning of 11th November, it was placed on a gun carriage drawn by six black horses and transported through massive but silent crowds which lined the streets.
Pausing at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, King George V unveiled the monument which represent an empty tomb (see our earlier post here) and placed a wreath on the coffin and then, followed by the king, other royal family members and dignitaries, it was taken to the abbey minster and lowered into the grave at a special service attended by the king, Queen Alexandra, the queens of Spain and Norway, and Prime Minister David Lloyd George and former Prime Minister HH (later Lord) Asquith (a recording made of some of the service – apparently conducted simultaneously with one at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris – became the first ever electrical recording to be sold to the public).
Thousands of mourners paid their respects at the open grave before the grave was filled in and covered with temporary stone on 18th November. The marble stone which now stands there was unveiled at a special service on 11th November the following year. A framed US Congressional Medal of Honor, conferred by General John J Pershing on the unknown warrior on 17th October, 1921, hangs from a pillar nearby.
WHERE: Westminster Abbey, Westminster (nearest Tube station is Westminster or St James’s Park); WHEN: Generally open to tourists everyday except Sunday (times vary so check the website); COST: £18 an adult/£15 concessions/£8 schoolchildren (11-18 years), free for children aged under 11/£44 for a family (two adults, two children); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org.
One of many memorials located in London’s railway stations, the Great Western Railway War Memorial is located on platform one of Paddington Station.
The memorial features a bronze figure of a soldier sculpted by Charles Sargeant Jagger standing against a granite and marble backdrop designed by Thomas S Tait. The soldier, who is dressed in battle gear with a helmet on his head and a great coat thrown about his shoulders, is depicted apparently reading a letter from home.
To either side of the soldier are reliefs depicting the emblems of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy while inscribed on the plinth beneath him is an inscription dedicated the memorial to employees of the railway who died in World War I. Inside the plinth was placed a sealed casket containing a vellum roll on which is written the names of all 2,524 men who died.
The memorial, known as the ‘GWR Memorial’, was unveiled on Armistice Day by Viscount Churchill, chairman of the Great Western Railway, in 1922 before a crowd estimated at around 6,000 people. It was later updated after World War II.
Restored in 2001, the memorial recently featured in the World War I commemorative project – “Letter to an Unknown Soldier” – in which members of the public were invited to write a letter to the soldier. The statue is also among more than 20 in London which have been brought to life as part of Sing London’s Talking Statues initiative (it has the voice of Patrick Stewart!).
Among our favourite railway memorials, others include the magnificent “Victory Arch” at Waterloo Station.
PICTURE: Cnbrb at the English language Wikipedia
September 24, 2014
While most of London’s World War I memorials feature sculptures depicting soldiers or weaponry, the controversial Machine Gun Corps Memorial at Hyde Park Corner takes as its centrepiece a more classical theme.
Designed by Francis Derwent Wood (known for his role in making masks for soldiers disfigured during the war), the larger than life-sized sculpture on top of this memorial is a nude statue of the Biblical character, David, who stands holding a giant sword – that of Goliath whose head he cut off. The Biblical theme is also found in an accompanying inscription from the Bible: 1 Samuel 18: 7 – “Saul hath slain his thousands but David his tens of thousands”.
To either side of the bronze figure – which has led to the memorial also being known as The Boy David – are two real bronzed Vickers guns wrapped in laurels while the Italian marble plinth carries a dedicated to the almost 14,000 of the corps who died between the raising of the corps in 1915 and its disbanding in 1922. The reverse of the memorial details the corps’ history, recording its service in “France, Flanders, Russia, Italy, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Salonica, India, Afghanistan and East Africa”.
The Grade II* listed monument, which was much criticised thanks to the juxtaposition of the naked figure and machine guns, was unveiled by the Duke of Connaught in 1925. Originally located on a traffic island to the south of the Royal Artillery Memorial it was dismantled in 1945 when roadworks were carried out and it wasn’t until 1963 that it was reassembled on its current site.
Interestingly, there is another statue of The Boy David by Edward Bainbridge Copnall standing atop a column which stands on Chelsea Embankment.
September 17, 2014
Located at Holborn Bar – one of the traditional entry points to the City of London, this memorial was erected in 1922 to the memory of the almost 22,000 solider of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) who died during the Great War.
The monument, which stands on a traffic island in the middle of busy High Holborn, was designed by sculptor Albert Toft (and hence is known affectionately as “Albert”) along with architects Cheadle and Harding at the behest of several senior officers from the regiment.
It was originally intended to be erected in one of the capital’s many parks. Hounslow Barracks was the next intended location but, after consultation with the City, the site in Holborn was eventually settled upon.
The larger-than-life bronze figure, which stands on a Portland stone pedestal holding a rifle with fixed bayonet, was apparently modelled on an actual person – a Sgt Cox, who served with the Royal Fusiliers throughout the war. The east face features a plate listing all the battalions who served in World War I; the west face features the regimental crest and dedication.
The Grade II-listed memorial, which was officially unveiled by the Lord Mayor of London (we think it was Sir Edward Cecil Moore) on 4th November, 1922, was later updated with inscriptions commemorating those who fell during World War II and in subsequent conflicts.
The original model for the monument can now be seen in the Fusilier Museum at the Tower of London. Interestingly, there is a twin monument, dedicated to the 41st Division, at Flers on the Somme, in France. It was unveiled in 1932.
PICTURE: Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)
September 10, 2014
Often deemed to be one of London’s finest war memorials, if not the finest (indeed London Historians’ Mike Paterson has said so previously on these very pages), the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner commemorates the more than 49,000 members of the Royal Artillery Regiment who died in World War I.
Designed by sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger – who had served in the infantry during the war – and architect Lionel Pearson, it was unveiled in 1925 by Prince Arthur and Anglican priest, Rev Alfred Jarvis.
The monument, described by architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as a “masterpiece of British 20th century sculpture”, features an oversized stone replica of a 9.2 inch Howitzer Mk I atop a stone plinth accompanied by a series of four realistic bronze figures and a series of carved reliefs depicting scenes of military life.
The figures represent a gun crew: a driver, artillery captain, shell carrier and, controversially at the time, a dead soldier lying beneath his cape and helmet with an inscription from Shakespeare’s Henry V – “Here was a royal fellowship of death”.
Three bronze panels were later added at the south end of the monument in commemoration of the almost 30,000 of the Royal Artillery who died in World War II. It was unveiled by the then Princess Elizabeth in 1949.
In late 2011, English Heritage completed a major restoration of the Grade I-listed work with a grant from the Bulldog Trust.
PICTURE: Above – David Adams. Below – virtusincertus/Flickr
September 3, 2014
A reminder that it’s not just humans involved in war, the small but distinctive Imperial Camel Corps monument commemorates the role dromedaries played in the Middle East during World War I.
Raised in December, 1916, the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade fought in the Sinai and Palestine during the war and its four battalions were eventually comprised of British, Australian, New Zealand and Indian troops. It was disbanded at the end of the war.
The Grade II-listed monument, located in Victoria Embankment Gardens, was designed by Scottish sculptor Cecil Brown, himself a World War I veteran, and features a bronze soldier mounted on a camel set on a Portland stone pedestal.
It was unveiled on 22nd July, 1921, and, on bronze plaques on the side of the plinth can be found the names of those soldiers who died in battle as well as a list of all the battles and engagements fought by the corps.
For more on the history of the corps, see the Australian War Memorial’s page.
August 27, 2014
The Tower Hill Memorial was originally built to commemorate those of the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets who died at sea in World War I and was later expanded to include those who died in World War II.
Located in the south-west corner of the garden in Trinity Square, the part of the memorial relating to World War I has the form of a 20-plus metre long vaulted corridor inside of which are a series of bronze plaques engraved with the names of 11,919 people whose grave was the sea.
Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and featuring sculptures by Sir William Reid-Dick, the Portland Stone memorial was unveiled on 12th December, 1928, by Queen Mary. The names are placed alphabetically under the names of their ships with the skipper or master the first name.
Located to the north of the original monument, the World War II extension, which was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on 5th November, 1955, takes the form of a semi-circular sunken garden and features the names of almost 24,000 seamen who died in World War II. It was designed by Sir Edward Maufe with sculpture by Charles Wheeler.
The memorial’s register is located inside nearby Corporation of Trinity House office (Cooper’s Row entrance).
PICTURE: Chmee2/Wikimedia Commons
Recently restored ahead of the World War I centenary, the St Saviour’s parish war memorial in Southwark was designed by Captain Philip Lindsey Clark, awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his service during the war.
Unveiled in November, 1922, it features a bronze figure depicting an advancing infantryman atop a plinth and has bronze panels on either side of the plinth featuring scenes of battleships and of bi-planes. The figure of St George and the dragon can be found on the front of the plinth and a mourning woman, depicting Grief, with a baby and a dove on the rear.
The Grade II-listed memorial, which is located on a traffic island, is dedicated to “the men of St Saviour’s Southwark who gave their lives for the Empire 1914-1918”.
The recent restoration project, which came after one of the relief panels fell off in 2011, was funded by Borough, Bankside & Walworth Community Council’s Cleaner Greener Safer programme. The picture (above) was taken before the restoration.
August 13, 2014
Commemorations of the outbreak of World War I have begun, so we thought we’d take a look at 10 of London’s memorials to those who died in the Great War.
Initially a wood and plaster structure, it was just one of a number of a memorials unveiled in July 1919 for a special ‘Peace Day’ commemoration of the previous year’s armistice.
But such was its popularity that it was replaced in the following year by the Portland stone monument – built by Holland, Hannen & Cubitts – which now stands on the site. It was officially unveiled by King George V on Remembrance Day in 1920.
Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the decision to model it after a ‘cenotaph’ – a classical Greek design depicting an empty tomb for those who remains are elsewhere – was apparently Lutyens’ own. The cloth flags on both sides – part of the original design (although Lutyens apparently wanted them in stone) – represent various elements of the British armed forces.
Temporary railings were added on the south side of the memorial in 1938 by Lutyens and are brought out for the Remembrance Sunday service each year. The Cenotaph was updated after World War II with the addition of Roman numerals recording its dates after which it was unveiled a second time, this time by King George VI, on 10th November, 1946.
The Cenotaph – designated a Grade I-listed building – has spawned a host of replicas in places once part of the British Empire – from Australia to Canada and Hong Kong.