11
Nov 04

“This was a Royal fellowship of death”

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“This was a Royal fellowship of death”

Maybe it’s inappropriate to have a favourite war memorial. If so, I apologise. Working at Hyde Park Corner I pass several of the things every day. Most are appropriately solemn but never really provoke thought or remembrance. The Royal Artillery memorial, made in 1925 by Charles Sargeant Jagger, is different. Standing next to the (ridiculous IMO) Wellington Arch, it’s a great chunk of marble in the shape of a Howitzer, with its crew depicted in bronze, standing by it or leaning on it. The soldiers look weatherbeaten and exhausted – next to their great, implacable, bleakly solid gun they seem horribly ephemeral.

As pieces of public war art go, it does a superb job. It avoids the euphemism of abstraction (at the same time its chunkiness feels modern, reminding me a lot of Rachel Whiteread’s similarly-scaled pieces). It also feels unsentimental – its artillerymen are machine-workers doing a job. In this it captures the essence of twentieth-century warfare, conscript armies at the mercy of huge and terrible technologies.

The First World War memorials you see walking from Hyde Park to Victoria were all designed as finished articles – bronzed full stops on an unspeakable time, their lists of names a warning and a closure. At Victoria Station itself, for instance, the memorial to railwaymen killed in the Great War is a vast panel of names – but then a newer panel has been added, with no names, commemorating the numbers killed in World War II. In the War Cloister at Winchester College the marble walls list every Wykehamist killed in military service, and the list ends with ample space for more names, an evil echo of the space on the wood panels in the main halls to list future Head- and Housemasters. “Remembrance” is maybe the wrong word for today – why remember things that haven’t finished?

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