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.