Royal Artillery Memorial

Royal Artillery Memorial
United Kingdom

The memorial at Hyde Park Corner
For casualties of the Royal Regiment of Artillery
in the First World War
Unveiled 1925 (1925)
Location 51°30′09″N 0°09′07″W / 51.5025°N 0.151944°W / 51.5025; -0.151944Coordinates: 51°30′09″N 0°09′07″W / 51.5025°N 0.151944°W / 51.5025; -0.151944
London, SW1
Designed by Charles Sargeant Jagger, Lionel Pearson
In Proud Remembrance of the Forty-Nine Thousand & Seventy-Six of All Ranks of the Royal Regiment of Artillery Who Gave Their Lives for King And Country in the Great War 1914—1919

The Royal Artillery Memorial is a stone memorial at Hyde Park Corner in London, dedicated to casualties in the Royal Regiment of Artillery in the First World War. The memorial was designed by Charles Jagger and Lionel Pearson, and features a giant sculpture of a BL 9.2-inch Mk I howitzer upon a large plinth of Portland stone, with stone reliefs depicting scenes from the conflict. Four bronze figures of artillery men are positioned around the outside of the memorial. The memorial is famous for its realist contrast with other First World War memorials, such as the Cenotaph designed by Edwin Lutyens, and attracted much public debate during the 20th century.


The First World War, which took place between 1914 and 1918, saw the extensive use of artillery, particularly on the Western Front. Technical advances, combined with the relatively static nature of trench warfare, made these guns a key element of the conflict: over half the casualties in the war were caused by artillery.[1] Artillery guns and their crews were themselves targets, however, and 49,076 members of the Royal Artillery died during the conflict.[2] In the years after the war, many former servicemen, including gunners, found the scale of the losses difficult to deal with, or felt that the events challenged their trust in the political leadership that had led them into the war.[3] Visual reminders of the conflict were often avoided: mutilated servicemen, for example, were banned in the 1920s from joining in veterans' marches, and those with facial injuries often hid them in public.[4]

The Royal Artillery War Commemoration Fund (RAWCF) was formed in 1918, made up a mixture of senior officers and other ranks.[5] The RAWCF's intention was to remember the artillery men who had died during the war, and after some discussions of various options, including purchasing a house for wounded soldiers, or building a number of small shrines across the country, the RAWCF decided to construct a single memorial to the fallen Royal Artillery servicemen.[6] Memorials to lost servicemen from the previous major conflict, the South African War fought between 1899 and 1902, had, however, been widely criticised as being unimaginative and unimpressive.[7] As a result of these problems, the prominent artist Sir Edward Poynter had put forward recommendations that far more care, time and funding be given to the construction of future war memorials, which were taken on board by the RAWCF.[8] The RAWCF sought a design that would be "unmistakably recognisable" as an artillery monument, and were insistent that the eventual designer take detailed advice from a junior officer who had served in the war.[9]

The RAWCF first examined a design by Captain Adrian Jones, who had produced the Boer War Cavalry Memorial a few years before, but his design was rejected.[10] Next, the committee contacted the artists Edwin Lutyens, Herbert Baker and Aston Webb.[11] Lutyens' sent in three designs, each costed at less than £15,000 (less than £607,000 in 2009 terms),[12] but they were felt to be too similar to the Cenotaph and to give insufficient prominence to the artillery.[10] After the RAWCF insisted that a howitzer be prominently incorporated into the designs, Lutyens withdrew.[11] Baker disagreed with the concept of single service monuments, but submitted a proposal costed at over £25,000 (over £1,010,000 in 2009 terms),[12] which was declined and Baker subsequently withdrew from the project; Webb declined to submit a proposal and also withdrew.[11]

Part of the memorial's carved reliefs, showing gunners operating a trench howitzer

The committee then approached Charles Jagger in early 1921.[13] Jagger had been trained as a metal engraver before attending the Royal College of Art.[14] He served in the infantry during the First World War and was injured at the battles of Gallipoli and Neuve-Église, being awarded the Military Cross.[15] At the end of the war, Jagger became involved in the design of war memorials, in particular the stark, brutal sculpture at the Hoylake and West Kirby War Memorial.[16] Jagger was approached by the RAWCF both because of his reputation as a designer and because of his service as an infantry officer, although the American artist John Sargent, a patron of Jagger's, may have encouraged the committee to consider the young artist.[17] The RAWCF requested that he submit a model for a realist sculpture, to include a group of soldiers in bronze on a pedestal.[18]

Jagger decided to work with the architect Lionel Pearson, who designed the stone structure of the memorial, and through June and July 1921 the RAWCF and the authorities considered the proposal.[19] Jagger's model was similar to the eventual memorial, but had only two gunners at either end of an oblong memorial; the howitzer on the top was smaller than the eventual version, and pointed sideways, rather than lengthways along the pedestal.[20] In reporting to the committee, Jagger said that he felt strongly that the design should unashamedly focus on the events of the war, noting that it "should in every sense be a war memorial".[5] Jagger explained that the artillery had "terrific power" and was the "last word in force", and that the howitzer he had chosen was the only suitable weapon to symbolise those capabilities.[21] There were concerns on the committee that the design would offend some members of the public, especially women, but the RAWCF eventually voted 50 to 15 in favour of accepting the design and the proposed cost of £25,000.[5] Jagger was formally awarded the contract for the memorial in March 1922.[21]

Due to the pressures of other projects, Jagger did not begin work on the memorial until the following year, by which point he had decided to alter the design.[21] The revised memorial would be a third-larger than before, forming a crucifix, guarded by three bronze soldiers; after much discussion, it was agreed that the howitzer would point south to produce a pleasing silhouette from the park.[22] A lengthy, year-long debate occurred within the RAWCF as to what inscription should be placed on the memorial, adding to the delay.[23] Jagger then decided that the fourth side of the memorial should feature a dead soldier; after considerable debate, the RAWCF also agreed to this modification.[23] Jagger's work continued to take longer than planned, partially due to shortages of staff, the need to approve each amendment to the plan and practical problems on the site itself.[24] The names of his models for two of the statues are known: William Fosten for the Driver and another ex-gunner called Metcalfe for the Ammunition Carrier.[25]

The work was opened four months late on 18 October 1925 by Prince Arthur and the Reverend Alfred Jarvis.[26] Despite the delay, the RAWCF and Jagger left on very good terms, the committee exceptionally pleased with the final memorial to the Royal Artillery.[27]

Over the years, pollution and water penetration caused damage to the bronzes and stonework.[28] English Heritage conducted a major restoration of the memorial during 2011, completed in time for Remembrance Day.[28] On 14 January 1970 the memorial was protected under UK law as a Grade II* listed building, but in July 2014 its status was raised to Grade I; it was one of five memorials in London receiving a higher grade to mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War I.[29]

Design and symbolism

The bronze statue of the artillery captain

The Royal Artillery Memorial today is located in what Malcolm Miles has termed the "leafy traffic island" of Hyde Park Corner in central London.[30] The memorial is 43 feet long, 21 feet wide and 30 feet high (13 m by 6 m by 9 m); the pedestal and the one-third oversized replica of a BL 9.2-inch howitzer, modelled on a gun in the Imperial War Museum, that sits on top of it are made of Portland stone.[31] Cast by the A. B. Burton foundry, four bronze figures are placed on each side of the memorial: a driver to the west side, an artillery captain on the east, a shell carrier to the south, and a dead soldier on the north.[32] Carved stone reliefs show various detailed military scenes from the First World War.[33] The memorial's main inscription on the west and east faces reads "In proud remembrance of the forty-nine thousand and seventy-six of all ranks of the Royal Regiment of Artillery who gave their lives for King and country in the Great War 1914—1919".[34]

Audio description of the memorial

The memorial forms a sharp contrast with both the earlier monuments of the South African War and most contemporary monuments to the First World War.[35] Memorials of the South African War typically included figures of soldiers, sometimes dying in conflict, but always heroically in a "beautiful death".[35] Classical symbolism was often used to distance the event of death from the observer, as typified in William Colton's work at Worcester.[35] Most First World War memorials reacted to the criticism of this approach by adopting cleaner architectural forms, but still retaining the ideal of a "beautiful death", an approach which can be seen at Lutyens' Southampton War Memorial, the precursor to his more famous Cenotaph in London.[36] These memorials frequently used abstract, beautiful designs intended to remove the viewer from the real world, and focus them on an idealised sense of self-sacrifice.[36] Soldiers in these memorials were still frequently depicted as Homeric warriors, and classical ideals and symbols remained popular, as can be seen at the Machine Gun Corps Memorial by Francis Derwent Wood, displayed close to the Royal Artillery Memorial itself.[37] Where dead soldiers were shown, they were depicted in an image of serenity and peace, often physically distanced from the viewer on a high platform, the entire effect reflected by the silence that traditionally surrounds ceremonies at the Cenotaph.[38]

The bronze statue of the driver

The Royal Artillery Monument attempted a very different effect. Jagger takes a realist approach to his figures, embracing detailed images of military power with none of the classical symbolism of other monuments, or even Jagger's own pre-war pieces.[39] The art historian Reginald Wilenski likens the memorial to the work of Frank Brangwyn, who focused on depicting the physical labour of soldiers and workers during the war.[40] The memorial shows the three upright bronze figures stood at ease, rather than to attention; the driver even leans back against the parapet, his cape hanging over his outstretched arms, suggesting an attitude of exhaustion or contemplation. The faceless, heavily laden statue of the fallen soldier appears less at rest than tired, pulled down as if by a great weight.[41] At the same time, the sheer size of the memorial, including the oversized gun and the larger-than-life bronze figures, exudes a sense of strength and power; the figures are stocky, confident and imposing.[42] This strength and power contributes to the sense of masculinity that pervades the work, from the phallic image of the howitzer, to the solid, muscular figures of the gunners.[43]

Despite the realist nature of the bronze statues in the design, commentators have often also noted the dehumanising aspects of the memorial. Its sheer size and bulk of the howitzer serves to distance the observer, dehumanising the soldiers in a similar way to the Cubist war paintings of Wyndham Lewis and Richard Nevinson.[44] Even the carved stone reliefs have an aggressive, hostile quality to them, a consequence of their focus on surface detail at the expense of the humans in the design.[33] When questioned about his lifelike depictions, Jagger remarked to The Daily Express newspaper that the "experience in the trenches persuaded me of the necessity for frankness and truth".[45] Using what historian John Glaves-Smith describes as themes of "endurance and sacrifice, not dynamism and conflict", the memorial can be felt to speak to its audience about the experience of war in a way that the Cenotaph, for example, does not.[46]

Critical reception

The bronze statue of the fallen artilleryman

The Royal Artillery Memorial has continued to be the subject of much critical discussion.[27] After the unveiling, a vigorous debate occurred in the British newspapers about the memorial. The Times was critical, comparing it unfavourably to the Cenotaph, while The Daily Mail highlighted the cost of the monument, and argued that the money could have been better spent on directly caring for injured veterans.[47] Both the dead soldier and the howitzer drew particular comment; art critic Selwyn Image complained about having any sort of artillery gun on the monument, whilst Lord Curzon was quoted as describing the howitzer as "a toad squatting, which is about to spit fire out of its mouth...nothing more hideous could ever be conceived".[48] Modernists, such as Roger Fry, criticised the conventional, secure structure that underpins the memorial.[48]

Other opinions were more positive. The Manchester Guardian noted that the frankness of the portrayal was a "terrible revelation long overdue", and hoped that veterans would be able to show the monument to their wives and children as a way of explaining the events of the war.[49] Ex-servicemen were quoted by the newspaper as reminiscing about the war as they examined the statue, and remarking on how the bronze figures had captured the reality of their time in the artillery.[50] The Illustrated London News reported how, two days after the official ceremony, a crowd had gathered in the rain just before dawn to conduct a small ceremony at the memorial; the newspaper felt that this said more about the quality of the memorial than the more negative writings of art critics.[49] These voices eventually held sway, and the memorial came to be popularly termed "the special Cenotaph of the Gunners", with Lord Edward Gleichen praising it in 1928 as "a strikingly imaginative and most worthy representation".[51] By the 1930s, it was one of the best known monuments in Europe.[5]

In later years, the reputation of the work diminished. The art critic Geoffrey Grigson echoed the comments of Lord Curzon, when he complained in 1980 that the memorial was a "squat toad of foolish stone".[48] A renewed focus on Jagger's works, including the Royal Artillery memorial, in the 1980s has led to a fresh reappraisal of the piece; the most recent critical work on the memorial has described it as a "work of the highest quality and distinction".[27]

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Royal Artillery Memorial.


  1. Bailey, p.xvviii.
  2. Bailey, p.239; Stephenson, p.144.
  3. Miles, p.102.
  4. Carden-Coyne, pp.159–160.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Black (2004a), p.141.
  6. Stephenson, p.144; Curl, p.82.
  7. Curl, pp.81–83.
  8. Curl, p.82.
  9. Skelton and Gliddon, p.150; Black (2004a), p.141.
  10. 1 2 Curl, p.83; Skelton and Gliddon, p.150.
  11. 1 2 3 Skelton and Gliddon, p.150.
  12. 1 2 Comparison based on 1922 prices, using the RPI measures at the Measuring Worth website, accessed 1 April 2011.
  13. Curl, p.83.
  14. Compton (1985b), pp.9–11.
  15. Compton (1985b), p.15.
  16. Compton (1985b), p.16.
  17. Black (2004a), p.141; Curl, p.84.
  18. Curl, p.89.
  19. Stephenson, p.144.
  20. Curl, pp.84–85.
  21. 1 2 3 Curl, p.85.
  22. Curl, pp.86, 94.
  23. 1 2 Curl, p.94.
  24. Curl, pp.94–95.
  25. Black (2004b), p.161; Windrow, p.11.
  26. Stephenson, p.144; Curl, p.96; Royal Artillery, United Kingdom Inventory of War Memorials, accessed 24 February 2012.
  27. 1 2 3 Curl, p.98.
  28. 1 2 Royal Artillery Memorial repaired for Armistice Day, BBC News, accessed 25 February 2011.
  29. First World War centenary marked by upgrading status of London war memorials, English Heritage, 28 September 2014; Royal Artillery Memorial, Westminster, British Listed Buildings, 28 September 2014.
  30. Miles, p.103.
  31. Stephenson, p.144; Black (2004a), p.141; Royal Artillery, United Kingdom Inventory of War Memorials, accessed 24 February 2012.
  32. Curl, pp.86–89; Arthur Bryan Burton, The Elmbridge Hundred, accessed 24 April 2011.
  33. 1 2 Glaves-Smith, p.61.
  34. Cooper, p.8.
  35. 1 2 3 Glaves-Smith, p.72.
  36. 1 2 Glaves-Smith, p.72; Carden-Coyne, p.155; Skelton and Gliddon, p.150.
  37. Carden-Coyne, p.158; Miles, p.102.
  38. Carden-Coyne, p.156; Glaves-Smith, p.72.
  39. Carden-Coyne, p.156.
  40. Glaves-Smith, p.78.
  41. Carden-Coyne, p.157; Dyer, p.62.
  42. Black (2004a), p.141; Glaves-Smith, p.21; Abousnnouga and Machin, p.136; Miles, p.102.
  43. Carden-Coyne, pp.157–158; Compton 1982b, p.8.
  44. Glaves-Smith, pp.75–76.
  45. Arthur Bryan Burton, The Elmbridge Hundred, accessed 24 April 2011.
  46. Miles, p.102; Glaves-Smith, p.72.
  47. Skelton and Gliddon, p.150; Black (2004a), p141.
  48. 1 2 3 Curl, p.81.
  49. 1 2 Black (2004a), p.142.
  50. Glaves-Smith, pp.52, 78.
  51. Stephenson, p.144; Curl, p.98.


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