The Imperial Camel Corps Memorial – A tribute to the ‘Ship of the Desert’ beside the Thames

BY RICHARD MADDOX

VILLIERS STREET GARDEN (one of four public gardens making up London’s Embankment Gardens) is not far from Charing Cross railway station, Trafalgar Square, various Government offices in Whitehall and numerous other sites of employment in the western part of the capital.

It is a lunchtime oasis for nearby office workers, a pleasant commuter ‘rat run’ for those walking to and from work or a green gem for London visitors or tourists to get their bearings.

History and fame are never far away.

The York Water Gate shows where the waters of the Thames used to extend to, the Gardens being reclaimed land with the much deeper modern Thames being 150 metres or so further south. The Savoy Hotel has its rear entrance very near the Gardens, statues of Robert Burns and composer Arthur Sullivan gaze unseeingly before them.

It’s also the site of the Imperial Camel Corps Memorial, a small Portland stone plinth topped with a beautifully modelled statue of a camel and its uniformed rider, sculpted by Major Cecil Brown who served in the Corps.

Detail of the rider and camel sculpted by Cecil Brown. Image © R Maddox 2017

The Imperial Camel Corps Memorial with the Australian casualties and the engagements of the Corps. Image © R Maddox 2017

The Memorial commemorates by name 346 members of the Corps who died of all causes between when the 1916 (when the Corps was founded just after Gallipoli action) and 1918 while serving in Egypt, Palestine and Sinai together with the actions they took part in.

The vast majority of casualties were Australian troops – 191 commemorated on the eastern plaque – with soldier from the United Kingdom (106), New Zealand (41) and the Indian sub-continent (9) being named on the western plaque.

The north and south sides have additional bronzes depicting dismounted soldiers running and officers with a camel (1).

At its height the Corps had 4,150 men and 4,800 camels. Three of its four battalions were disbanded in mid-1918, the final (2nd) battalion survived until May 1919 (2).

Unveiled on 22 July 1921, the ceremony was attended by (amongst others) the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand and General Sir Philip Chetwode, the Corps first commander – and later the father-in-law of poet Sir John Betjeman(3) with the memorial being dedicated by the Bishop of London(4).

It stands on the site of… (ironically, given the fact that the Corps operated in the desert and the camel’s ability to store water)… a late 19th century drinking fountain(5).

Sources:

(1) https://www.londonremembers.com/memorials/imperial-camel-corps retrieved 11 July 2017

(2) https://www.londonremembers.com/subjects/imperial-camel-corps?memorial_id=1299 retrieved 11 July 2017

(3) http://www.thefield.co.uk/country-house/the-imperial-camel-corps-31175 retrieved 11 July 2017

(4) http://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/11347 retrieved 11 July 2017

(5) https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000844 retrieved 11 July 2017

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