11 November 2017

‘Let all who come after
see to it that these dead
shall not have died in vain’

‘May God grant to ... the Church and the world peace and concord’ ... Pax 1919 and the gates of the Gardens of Remembrance in Lichfield, with the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral in the background (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Remembrance Day, and later this morning [11 November 2017] I hope to take part in the Remembrance Day commemoration at the memorials in the Plaza in Tarbert, Co Kerry, which honour local people who died in the two World Wars, the 1916 Rising and War of Independence, and a 19th century drowning in the Shannon Estuary.

Remembrance Sunday is also being marked in the prayers tomorrow morning [12 November 2017] at the Parish Eucharist in Castletown Church, Kilcornan, and Morning Prayer in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

This weekend, of course, I also remember my grandfather, Stephen Edward Comerford (1867-1921), who was born 150 years ago next month. He suffered through Gallipoli and Suvla Bay with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 1915-1916, was sent to the Balkan front from Greece, and then picked up malaria in Thessaloniki.

After my grandfather was sent back to Dublin, my father was conceived and was born in 1918. But my grandfather’s health continued to decline until he died a pitiable, sad and lonely death on 21 January 1921. He was only 53. He is buried in Saint Catherine’s Old Churchyard in Portrane, Co Dublin.

Distance means I cannot visit his grave this weekend. But this morning that grave comes to mind, as well as three war memorials that constantly and continue challenge me to think about war and the sufferings it causes.

When I am in Lichfield, I often spend some quiet time in reflection in the War Memorial Garden. I am always impressed that this garden, a peaceful oasis in the shadow of Lichfield Cathedral, is a reminder of war and its consequences, and never a glorification of war – instead, over its gates in large letters is an inscription reads simply: ‘PAX 1919’.

After World War I, the people of Lichfield were anxious to create a memorial to local people who had died during the war. The site was chosen because of its picturesque setting between Minster Pool and the Cathedral Close, with the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral in the background.

From the early 1300s until the mid-18th century, a crenellated wall surrounded the Cathedral Close and formed part of the cathedral’s fortifications, and this wall passed through the centre of the site of the Garden of Remembrance. Over time, as parts of Minster Pool silted up, the land where the garden now stands doubled in size and by 1738 it was leased out for cattle grazing.

The War Memorial seen through the gates of the Garden of Remembrance (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At the end of World War I, three projects were proposed: peace celebrations, a permanent war memorial, and an assembly room for concerts. A public appeal was launched to raise money to build a permanent war memorial.

The War Memorial was designed by the architect, Charles Edward Bateman (1863-1947), who was born in Castle Bromwich, about 15 miles south of Lichfield. He was an early pioneer of the Arts and Crafts style in Birmingham and the surrounding area.

The memorial is the work of the Lichfield stonemasons, Bridgeman and Sons of Quonian’s Lane, and work on laying out the garden began in 1919.

The stone lions on the gate piers reputedly came from Moxhull Hall in Wishaw, Warwickshire. The 18th century stone balustrades and plinth came from Shenstone Court, south of Lichfield.

At the far end of the garden, the war memorial is built in the classical style with Ionic pilasters flanking the statue of Saint George and the Dragon in the central niche. To either side of this central section are panels with swept parapets carved with wreaths topped with crowns.

The life-size figure of Saint George is carved in Portland stone, the monument is of Ashlar stone, and the plaques are of Westmorland slate. Saint George, who stands astride the dragon he has slain, holds the cross in his right hand and with his left hand he supports a shield emblazoned with the cross.

The statue of Saint George is influenced by statues by Donatello in Florence and Giulio dal Moro in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There is a long tradition, dating back to the beginning of the crusades in the 12th century, of depicting Saint George as a knight slaying a dragon.

The statue in Lichfield shows Saint George as a proud, youthful and alert warrior encased in armour. This depiction is influenced by Donatello’s standing figure of Saint George for the Orsanmichele or Oratory of Saint Michael in Florence (1416-1417). The design is also influenced by the 16th century statue on the façade of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice by the sculptor Giulio dal Moro, where Saint George stands with a staff in his right hand and a shield in his left, and with the slain dragon at his feet.

An inscription on the slate plaque beneath the statue of Saint George in Lichfield says:

‘Remember with thanksgiving the men of this city who in their country’s hour of need went forth endured hardness faced danger and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of sacrifice and the gate of death. Let all who come after see to it that these dead shall not have died in vain that their name be not forgotten and what they strove for perish not.’

There are lions’ heads on either side of the statue. The lower panels were added later and are dedicated to those who had died in the World War II and later struggles. These words are found in the centre of the lower panels:

‘These lower panels are dedicated to those who died in the cause of freedom during the World War 1939-1945 and the struggles which followed.’

The Garden of Remembrance is owned and managed by Lichfield City Council. It forms part of the Grade II-registered Cathedral Close and Linear Park. The garden was restored in 2011/2012 as part of the Historic Parks restoration project.

The war memorial in Upper John Street commemorates the Lichfield Brewery employees who died in World War I (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Another war memorial in Lichfield remembers the employees of Lichfield Brewery who died in World War I. Although the brewery is long closed, the memorial can still be seen on the old brewery buildings in Upper Saint John Street, close to the railway bridge at Lichfield City Station.

The Lichfield Brewery Co was formed in 1869 as a merger of two local breweries, Griffith Brothers and the Lichfield Malting Co. The company was taken over by Samuel Allsopp’s in 1930, but the Lichfield Brewery ceased production soon afterwards. The majority of the buildings were demolished in 1969, but the Brewery Offices are still standing with the roll of honour a plaque on the wall paying tribute to the 13 employees killed in World War I.

The inscription and the names are surrounded by a carved foliate border with ribbons. There is a wreath in relief at the top of the plaque with ribbons and the words Pro Patria.

The inscription reads: ‘In honour of the employees of this brewery who gave their lives in the Great War 1914-1919.’

The Cambridge War Memorial on Hills Road, outside Cambridge University Botanic Garden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The third memorial that comes to mind is the Cambridge War Memorial on Hills Road, outside Cambridge University Botanic Garden. I pass this memorial regularly as I walk between Cambridge station to Sidney Sussex College.

This memorial shows a bronze statue of a marching soldier by the Canadian sculptor Robert Tait McKenzie, known as ‘The Homecoming’ and sometimes as ‘Coming Home.’ It is mounted on a heavily carved limestone plinth, was unveiled in 1922, and became a Grade II listed building in 1996.

After World War I, there were long debates in Cambridge about an appropriate war memorial, its location, and how the funds should be raised. The proposals included a clock tower, cottages for injured soldiers, public amenities, or improvements at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

In April 1919, the committee recommended three parallel memorials: one at Addenbrooke’s, a memorial listing the names of the war dead at Ely Cathedral, and a memorial in central Cambridge. In addition, the colleges of the university were planning their own war memorials in the college chapels.

The statue on Hills Road was to become the Cambridge War Memorial. McKenzie designed the sculpture of a soldier to represent Victory, and the architect was George Hubbard.

The soldier, in the uniform of the Cambridgeshire Regiment, is slightly larger than life at 2.1 metres (7 ft) tall. McKenzie modelled him on Kenneth Hamilton, who was an undergraduate at Christ’s College.

The soldier marches purposefully with his rifle sloped over his left shoulder, his stride deliberately over-extended by several inches. He walks home up Hills Road, towards the centre of Cambridge, with a backward glance over his right shoulder along Station Road towards Cambridge railway station. He is bareheaded, holding his helmet in his right hand, which also clasps a rose, with another rose fallen at his feet. He carries a laurel wreath on his rifle, which also encircles a German helmet carried on his backpack as a trophy of war.

The rectangular plinth is built of brick faced with limestone, with rounded ends like a sarcophagus. The top half of the plinth has high-relief carvings of coats of arms. An inscription on the lower half is picked out with red paint: ‘To the men of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely, the Borough and University of Cambridge who served in the Great War 1914–1919.’ Later the words were added ‘and in the World War 1939–1945.’

The memorial was unveiled by the Duke of York, later George VI, on 3 July 1922, when most from the university were away during the summer holiday. The bronze was not finished in time for the official ceremony, and a gilded plaster cast took its place. The bronze was erected later, and the memorial was dedicated a year later on 3 July 1923.

The memorial was relocated in 1952 from a position nearer the station to an island in the middle of Hills Road, at its junction of Station Road. It became a Grade II listed building in 1996. It was moved again as part of the Botanic House development, and reinstalled in 2012 on the south side of the road, closer to Cambridge University Botanic Garden.

This morning, let us pray that we may find the ways needed to put all wars behind us, to put aside all hatred and violence, and when we remember that we remember with sorrow, with gratitude and with forgiveness, but without bitterness or anger, that the call of nationalist ideologies may never twist us, may never distort the love we should have for others, nor ever allow us to deny our shared humanity.

May God grant to the living Grace,
to the departed Rest,
to the Church and the world peace and concord,
and to all us sinners Eternal Life, Amen.

‘Pax 1919’ ... the gates into the Garden of Remembrance, below the spires of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's good that we can now commemorate those Irish who died in WW1, as well as in other conflicts. And as you remember your grandfather, I'll be recalling my great-uncle, Fred Bennett of Roscrea, who was also invalided out and died shortly after the war (in his case, from TB).
It strikes me, incidentally, that your grandfather was much older than the mass of recruits (late forties?) when he enlisted - is there a story there too, I wonder? Frustrating, all the things we'll probably never know!