Petrified War Machine

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There is a remarkable memorial to WWI at Hyde Park Corner in London – the Royal Artillery Memorial, designed by Charles Sargent Jagger, dedicated in 1925.

It’s a strange monument that sits between two traditions. On the one hand, its material and form is neo-classical. On the other, the Portland stone has been sculpted into a kind of hyper-accurate reportage. On the plinth – occupying the traditionally position of romantic/heroic features of horse or chariot -is a Howitzer. This a gigantic representation of the machinery of mechanised war and is rendered bolt-perfect and war-ready, as though at any moment it might fire huge Portland stone shells. Symbolically, its a statement about the terrifying spectacle of machine-enabled conflict.

Rumour has it that the barrel points towards the Somme (in which case it joins the rumour that HMS Belfast’s guns are trained on the Watford Gap service station).

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The memorial also features bronze figures of ordinary soldiers depicted in realistic pose. One artilleryman is laid out dead, as though found on the battlefield, his body covered with his coat and helmet upon his chest. Another rests against the plinth as though exhausted by war. A third reads a letter from home – moments frozen as if in documentary photography.

The memorial shows man, machine and the tragic effects of war explicitly – a far cry from the stylised, celebratory statues that characterise traditional military memorials.

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