The sheer number of lives lost on active service during World War I tragically meant that it was impossible to repatriate the war dead and lay them to rest. War memorials were built in vast numbers, as they provided grieving communities with a focal point for commemorating the fallen. These memorials take on a special significance in their communities on holidays that honor those who served, whether you observe Veterans Day in the US, Remembrance Day in the UK, or Armistice Day somewhere else in the world.
England in particular has thousands of memorials dedicated to World Wars I and II. Fortunately, you can learn all about them from the comfort of your home—but if you ever find yourself in any of these English towns and cities, you'll find they're even more impressive in person. Here are seven of the most remarkable and significant war memorials in England.
Remembrance Day is observed in England each year on November 11—the same day that Americans celebrate Veterans Day, and many other nations observe Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I. Each Remembrance Day, a special ceremony is held at the Cenotaph on Whitehall in London.
Its origins lie in a temporary structure, which was erected on the site for the London Peace Parade in July 1919. The monument was only supposed to be there for one week. However, such was its popularity with the public, who laid flowers at its base in their thousands, that the architect of the monument, Edwin Lutyens, was asked to recreate it in Portland stone. The permanent Whitehall Cenotaph was unveiled the following year.
Lutyens’ highly effective design has since been reproduced all over the world. The tall stone memorial, which is topped by a sculpted stone coffin (the word cenotaph comes from the Greek word for “empty tomb”), is deliberately simple. It has little decoration, other than a laurel wreath at each end and an inscription which reads “The Glorious Dead”.
Royal Artillery Memorial
In contrast to the stark simplicity of Lutyens’ design for the Whitehall Cenotaph, a stone replica of a howitzer gun serves as the centerpiece of the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner. It also features four life-size bronze figures of artillerymen, including one who has perished. Sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger, who had himself served in the trenches, was briefed to design a monument which realistically represented the role of artillery during wartime.
The memorial attracted controversy from the moment it was unveiled by Queen Victoria’s last surviving son, Prince Arthur, in October 1925, with some criticizing its brutal realism and unsentimental depiction of the horrors of war. It has divided public opinion ever since, although today this powerful sculpture is generally regarded as one of England’s finest war memorials.
Edwin Lutyens’ first commission for a permanent World War I memorial in England came when, in early 1919, he was invited to work on the Southampton Cenotaph. The memorial was officially opened in November 1920, just a week before his work on the permanent Cenotaph in Whitehall was unveiled. There are interesting differences between the two monuments. The Southampton memorial features more in the way of sculptural detail, including a prominent Christian cross, which Lutyens is said to have only included under pressure from the organizing committee.
In his subsequent work, including the Whitehall Cenotaph, Lutyens adopted a more austere approach, devoid of religious symbolism and unnecessary adornments. He believed this gave his memorials a universal quality, allowing soldiers of all races and religions to be commemorated there.
A permanent memorial in honor of Liverpool’s war dead was first proposed in 1920, but the idea was shelved as it proved impossible to raise sufficient funds due to high unemployment in the city. Eventually the City Council decided to fund a memorial itself and, in 1926, local architect Lionel Budden was chosen as its designer out of a field of more than 250 candidates.
Liverpool’s Cenotaph was finally unveiled on Armistice Day in November 1930 in front of a crowd of 80,000 people. Budden’s horizontal altar-like design perfectly suits its location in front of the imposing St George’s Hall. The long panels on each side, which were designed by Liverpool sculptor, Herbert Tyson Smith, have been rightly acclaimed for their bronze-relief sculptures depicting soldiers going off to war and mourners grieving their deceased loved ones.
The Response 1914
Newcastle Upon Tyne
Wealthy ship owner, Sir George Renwick, financed this memorial, which was officially unveiled by Edward VIII (then the Prince of Wales) in July 1923. All five of Renwick’s sons had safely returned from active service during World War I, an exceptionally fortunate outcome which compelled the shipping magnate to commission a monument in honor of those who had not made it home.
Renwick himself had suggested in September 1914 that men from local businesses be encouraged to enlist together. Within a week, enough men from the area had been recruited to form a battalion, which became known as the “Newcastle Commercials”. Similar “Pals” battalions were established all over the country and made an invaluable contribution to the war effort, but at a terrible cost. Out of 1,000 men, 350 soldiers from that first “Newcastle Commercials” battalion were lost in one day at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.
In memory of the fallen “Newcastle Commercials” battalion and other lost soldiers from the area, The Response 1914 features at its heart an extraordinarily powerful bronze relief sculpture by Sir William Goscombe John, which depicts a procession of local men marching off to war led by a winged angel.
Coventry War Memorial
Coventry’s striking Art Deco style war memorial forms the centerpiece of the city’s War Memorial Park, which was opened in July 1921 as a tribute to the local people who had lost their lives on active service during World War I. It was intended from the start that a monument should lie at the heart of the park, and in 1924, a public appeal was launched to raise funds for the building work.
The 90-foot-high memorial tower, which is clad in Portland stone, was the work of local architect Thomas Francis Tickner. Sadly he did not live to see his vision come to fruition, as he died three years before the memorial was completed in 1927. A special room inside the monument called the Chamber of Silence contains the Books of Remembrance, to which have been added the names of those lost during World War II and subsequent conflicts.
Air Forces Memorial
This memorial commemorates by name over 20,000 British Commonwealth air force personnel who lost their lives during World War II and, to this day, have no known grave. It was officially unveiled in a ceremony attended by Queen Elizabeth II in October 1953. Designed by Sir Edward Maufe, its centerpiece is the Stone of Remembrance, which lies at the heart of a quadrangle that is enclosed by cloistered walks and is accessible by a triple-arched gateway. The names of the dead are inscribed on stone panels on the cloister walls.
This memorial occupies a prominent position on Coopers Hill, overlooking the site at Runnymede where King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215. The choice of location was no accident, as this inscription, which is engraved on a gallery window, reveals: Here, where the trees troop down to Runnymede, Meadow of Magna Carta, field of freedom, Never saw you so fitting a memorial, Proof that the principles established here are still dear to the hearts of men.