A tribute marking the centenary of World War I, Battlefields to Butterflies, has gone on show at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show this week. Designed by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, the special feature garden features two very different scenes – one depicting the desolate landscapes of the trenches and the other a landscape restored to peace by nature. The display draws on the words and paintings of World War I artist William Orpen and reflects what he witnessed firsthand on the Western Front. Among the plants on show are poplars, hornbeams, willow and birch and massed wildflowers including poppies, cornflowers, loosestrife, mallows and cranesbills. A special plaque commemorating the 24 Royal Parks and Palaces gardeners and park keepers who lost their lives in the world is also included in the garden. The plaque will be taken to Brompton Cemetery following the flower show to form part of a permanent memorial garden that will commemorate all parks, gardens and grounds staff, from across the UK and its allies, who died in the war. The show runs until 8th July. For more, see www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-hampton-court-palace-flower-show. PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces/Michael Bowles.

 

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Nineteenth century Scottish painter David Robert’s painting, The Forum, is at the heart of a new display at the Guildhall Art Gallery exploring the concept of the Roman forum. The display looks at why the forum played such an important role in the Roman world, how it would have looked and what happened there. It also examines the painting in the context of the Robert’s Roman series, his wider body of work and depictions of the ‘grand tour’ by other artists. Admission is free. The exhibition, which is part of Londonium, a series of events, talks and displays focusing on London’s Roman past, runs until 1st January. For more, follow this link. PICTURE: A model of Londinium’s Roman forum in the Museum of London.

Two young Londoners who were posthumously awarded Victoria Crosses after they were killed on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele have been honoured with commemoration stones in Victoria Embankment Gardens. Captain Thomas Riversdale Colyer-Fergusson, accompanied by a sergeant and just five men, managed to capture an enemy trench and a machine gun which he turned on his assailants. The 21-year-old attacked again, this time with just his sergeant, and captured another enemy machine gun but soon afterwards was killed by a sniper. Second Lieutenant Dennis George Wyldbore Hewitt, meanwhile, led his company under heavy machine-gun fire while seriously wounded and in pain. The 19-year-old successfully captured and consolidated his objective but he too was killed by a sniper soon after. The two men died on 31st July, 1917. The memorials were erected as part of World War I centenary commemorations which is seeing all 628 Victoria Cross recipients from the war being honoured in their birthplaces.

On Now: Samuel Fosso: Self-portraits. This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery features a selection of images from 666 self-portraits taken by Cameroonian-born artist Samuel Fosso in 2015. Each of the shots were taken against the same red backdrop with Fosso adopting an identical head and shoulders pose in each. Photographed every day during October and November, 2015, each work is intended to reflect Fosso’s particular mood at that moment. The photographs, the artist’s first solo display in the UK, are displayed alongside some of the earliest self-portraits that he made while a teenager working in Bangui in the Central African Republic in the 1970s.  In these works, Fosso adopted personas which reflected popular West African culture, from musicians and the latest youth fashions to political advertising.  He employed special cloth backgrounds, in front of which he dressed up in a range of outfits from authentic European costumes and African folk costumes to navy uniforms, karate keikogis and boxer shorts. Runs until 24th September. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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Poppies4The Tower of London is bidding farewell to the sea of poppies that has filled its dry moat while two major features of the instalment – created to mark the centenary of World War I – prepare to head off on tour. Known as Weeping Window (shown above) and Wave (shown immediately below) – the two features of the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation will both tour various locations across the UK for the next few years before going on permanent display at the Imperial War Museum in London and Manchester. So, we thought we’d take a look back at what has proved to be one of the most popular and moving memorials to appear in the capital in recent years. Created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins (with setting by stage designer Tom Piper), the project saw as many as 888,246 ceramic poppies –  representing all British and Colonial fatalities during the war – planted by volunteers in the moat. The last one was planted on Armistice Day  – 11th November – last week before the process of removal began. PICTURES: ©Richard Lea-Hair and Historic Royal Palaces. 

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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.

Westminster-Abbey2The 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.

GWR-Memorial-smallTo 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

Machine-Gun-Corps-MemorialWhile 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.

A new display commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I has opened at the Tower of London, coinciding with the sea of ceramic poppies which has been ‘planted’ in its moat (see our earlier post on the poppies here). The exhibition, housed in the Flint Tower, features photographs and film from 1914 showing how the Tower was used for in the recruitment, deployment and training of the military and as a place for execution. Photographs from today have been combined with those from 1914 to create moving composite images. The display can be seen with general admission entry. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/.

A copper element which represented Team GB and was one of 204 – one for each country – used in the Olympic cauldron during the 2012 Games is on display at the Museum of London. It and Paralympic GB’s element will be on alternate display in a new gallery, Designing a Moment: The London 2012 Cauldron, which follows the cauldron’s journey its design and manufacture to its unveiling, ceremonial role, and legacy. The gallery features two seven metre long sections of the cauldron, which was designed by Heatherwick Studio and which featured one element for each country represented at the Games and then for the Paralympics. Until 27th August, it will also feature the Team GB’s element which will then be returned to the British Olympic Association/British Olympic Foundation and replaced with the Paralympics GB copper element, on loan from the British Paralympic Association, which will remain on show until 23rd October, after which it will be replaced by an unassigned Paralympic copper element. Admission is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

A portrait of author Roald Dahl as a young RAF pilot during World War II has gone on show at the National Portrait Gallery near Trafalgar Square. Painted by Matthew Smith, the work is featured in Colour, Light, Texture: Portraits by Matthew Smith & Frank Dobson, a new display which brings together Smith’s paintings with Dobson’s sculptures. The portrait was painted in 1944 when Dahl was in his late twenties. Found in Room 33, the display can be seen until April 6th. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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More than 800,000 ceramic poppies are being “planted” in the moat of the Tower of London to commemorate the centenary of World War I.

The work of ceramic artist Paul Cummins, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red will grow throughout the summer until, by Armistice Day, 888,246 ceramic poppies are ‘planted’ in the dry moat, each one representing a British or colonial military fatality during the war.

The first poppy was planted by Yeoman Warder Crawford Butler back in July (pictured) and the work was officially “unveiled” today – 100 years since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the war. 

More than 8,000 volunteers will be involved in planting the poppies which can be purchased for £25 with 10 per cent from each poppy plus all net proceeds shared equally among six service charities: the Confederation of Service Charities (COBSEO), Combat Stress, Coming Home, Help for Heroes, Royal British Legion and SSAFA (formerly the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association).

Starting today, the public will also be able to witness the daily twilight reading of a roll of honour featuring the names of 180 serving military killed during the World War I from Tower Hill terrace. The reading will be followed by the bugler playing the Last Post. Members of the public can nominate a name for the roll of honour. 

For more, see poppies.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: Photo: © Richard Lea-Hair/Historical Royal Palaces

An altar frontal created by more than 100 soldiers wounded in World War I will go on display at St Paul’s Cathedral this weekend. Made by 138 soldiers from the UK, Australia, Canada and South Africa, the restored altar frontal was created for the national service of thanksgiving at the end of the war and it forms the centerpiece of the cathedral’s commemoration of its centenary. The altar frontal will be used for the first time during a special service of Eucharist at 6pm this Sunday which will be attended by relatives of the men who made it. It will then be on display until 11th November, 2018, in the cathedral’s north transept. For more see www.stpauls.co.uk/WW1.

Trafalgar Square will host the annual Eid Festival this Saturday. It will feature stage entertainment including a catwalk show, arts and crafts, exhibitions, calligraphy, henna and face painting as well as a global food festival – including Turkish, Egyptian, Indonesian, Lebanese and Moroccan food – and a Malaysian food market. The free festival runs from noon to 6pm. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/eid.

A newly acquired portrait of suffragette Christabel Pankhurst has gone on display in the National Portrait Gallery for the first time in 80 years. The portrait, by Ethel Wright, was first shown at an exhibition staged in Kensington in 1909. It is part of a new display, Suffragettes: Deeds not Words, which also features photographs and archive material. It marks 100 years since the campaigners’ “final and most violent” protests which included an attack on paintings in the National Portrait Gallery. The display is on show in Room 31 of the gallery until 10th May next year. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

The British Museum has reopened a gallery space dedicated to early Egypt as part of its refurbishment of the Ancient Egyptian galleries. The new Early Egypt gallery focuses on the development of Egypt between 8,500 BC and 3,100 BC – the beginning of the Pyramid Age – and features a redisplay of objects from the museum’s collection as well as materials only acquired recently; these include objects taken from a site in northern Sudan which were donated in 2002. Highlights of the new gallery include a series of female figurines which are among the oldest known Egyptian sculptures in human form, the Gebelein Man – the best preserved example of mummification dating to around  3,500 BC, and the Hunter’s Palette and the Battlefield Palette – two temple objects on which Egyptian rulers recorded their victories. The gallery is in Room 64. Admission is free. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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