In a special Favorite Places to mark Remembrance Day, Mike Paterson, director of London Historians, talks about his favorite war memorials…
At this time of year, the focus is inevitably on Lutyens’ Cenotaph in Whitehall. Version 1, in wood and plaster, was hurredly constructed in just two weeks in time for the 1919 victory parade. The version we know today was unveiled on 11th November the following year and is a plain, austere and fitting tribute to all our lost service personnel, the centre of the nation’s attention every Remembrance Sunday.
It is estimated there are over 70,000 war memorials in Britain. As a nation we have, let’s face it, a bellicose history, and London in particular has been intimately involved in both World Wars. No surprise then, that as you walk the streets, you happen upon something referencing conflict around every corner. In addition to memorials themselves, we have dozens of now largely forgotten field marshals, generals and other martial leaders.
But the best, I believe, are the ones celebrating the common soldier. I have some favourites. The City of London Regiment infantryman atop a tall plinth in Holborn by Albert Toft (1922), dramatically standing tall, his rifle by his side, bayonet fixed. In Borough High Street there is a fine statue by P Lindsay Clark (1922), remembering the men from St Saviour’s (pictured, right). It is of a soldier, rifle slung, purposefully leaning forward as he trudges through the mud. A very recent statue unveiled by the Queen in 2000 is of a five-man tank crew, in Whitehall Place very near Embankment Station. By Vivien Mallock, it gives a very strong feeling of cameraderie and I always find it uplifting when walking by.
But of all the memorials to the rank and file soldier, by far the most outstanding is, for me, the Royal Artillery monument on Hyde Park Corner, unveiled in 1925. It commemorates the 49,000 artillerymen who lost their lives in the Great War.
The piece comprises a massive Portland stone plinth mounted by a 9.2 inch howitzer gun, augmented on all sizes by statues in bronze of gunners in various poses. One of these men – controversial at the time – is dead, covered by his great coat; you can see his hand and part of the side of his face.
The memorial (pictured, right) was designed by Charles Sargeant Jagger (1885 – 1934). Lionel Pearson constructed the stone parts while Jagger himself sculpted the soldiers. Informally posed, they are all exquisite examples of the sculpor’s art.
The most striking is that of the artillery driver, leaning back onto the plinth and resting his outstretched arms on it. His cape – stretched from wrist to wrist – hangs down limply. In fact, the man rather resembles a crucified figure without the cross. I was delighted some months ago to discover a maquette (small working model) of this figure at the Honourable Artillery Company HQ in the City.
Jagger – a First World War veteran himself – was an outstanding memorial sculptor. If you’re waiting for a train at Paddington and have a little time on your hands, do check out his memorial to the fallen soldiers of the Great Western Railway. It’s a deeply poignant depiction of a squaddie – his coat draped over his shoulders and wearing a long, home-made scarf – reading a letter from home. You can find it on Platform 1, and I defy you not to be deeply moved.
PICTURES: Mike Paterson