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
• New galleries dedicated to exploring the history of World War I will open – along with the rest of the refurbished building – at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth on Saturday. The First World War Galleries span 14 areas displaying everything from shell fragments and lucky charms carried by soldiers to weapons and uniforms, diaries and letters, photographs, art and film. Interactive displays include ‘Life at the Front’ featuring a recreated trench with a Sopwith Camel plane and Mark V tank, and ‘Feeding the Front’ featuring an interactive table of more than four metres long which looks how troops were kept fed. There are also reflective areas in which visitors are encouraged to reflect on some of the most difficult aspects of war. The museum – which features a dramatic new atrium – is also launching the largest exhibition and first major retrospective of British World War I art for almost 100 years. Truth and Memory includes works by some of the UK’s most important artists. Entry to both is free with Truth and Memory running until 8th March. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.
• London’s memorials to those who died in World War I are the focus of a new exhibition which opened at Wellington Arch near Hyde Park Corner yesterday. The English Heritage exhibition, which has a particular focus on the six memorials cared for by English Heritage but also looks at other memorials, will include designs, statuettes and photographs of the memorials including the Cenotaph in Whitehall. Also featured in We Will Remember Them: London’s Great War Memorials are official documents – including a note of condolence and medals certificates – received by the family of author and broadcaster Jeremy Paxman on the death of his great uncle Private Charles Dickson, who died at Gallipoli in 1915. Runs until 30th November. Admission charge applies. For more see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wellington-arch/. Meanwhile, coinciding with the opening of the exhibition has been news that five of London’s key war memorials – including the Edith Cavell Memorial in St Martin’s Place and the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner – have had their heritage listing upgraded.
• In case you missed it, the 24th annual Festival of Archaeology kicked off last weekend and features a range of events across London. Highlights include the chance again to go ‘mudlarking’ on the Thames river bank below the Tower of London and have your finds assessed by archaeologists (this Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 4pm), guided 90 minute walks around Islington and Highbury this weekend with a particular focus on the 1940s, and a look behind the scenes at the London Metropolitan Archives (2pm to 5pm today). The festival continues until 27th July. Check the website for a full program of events – www.archaeologyfestival.org.uk.