BY RICHARD MADDOX
GIVEN ITS LOCATION in the heart of central London, Imperial War Museums’ Churchill War Rooms and Museum – to give its full title – is (unsurprisingly) surrounded by monuments and memorials.
Although only a short walk from CWR on Horse Guards Parade – the place where the annual Trooping of the Colour ceremony takes place – is the little known and often ignored Royal Naval Division Memorial Fountain, by Sir Edwin Lutyens.
Lutyens was an architect responsible for a variety of building, bridges and war memorials in France, India, Ireland and the United Kingdom, where he is best known for the Cenotaph on near-by Whitehall, the place where Britain’s annual commemoration of its war dead is held.
His design produced an elegant and most ‘unmilitary’ memorial at a time when realistic and heroic statues of ‘Tommies’ were fashionable.
On a recent wet and windy visit I found a small number of fading tributes commemorating (amongst others) Lieutenant the Honourable Vere Sidney Tudor Harmsworth who died on 13 November 1916, the first day of the Battle of Ancre and James McDonald a member of the Royal Naval Reserve who became a machine gunner.
Having previously served in the Royal Navy until a hearing problem caused him to be discharged in May 1915, Lieutenant Harmsworth volunteered for the Division and after capture in Antwerp escaped to serve at Gallipoli and then on the Western Front (1).
His father (later Lord Rothermere) later funded the 63rd Royal Naval Division memorial in Beaucourt, on the bank of the Ancre river in France (2).
The faded Cross of Remembrance honours machine gunner Able Seaman James McDonald.
Serving with 189 Machine Gun Company and the Royal Naval Division’s Hawke Battalion, he would die of wounds on 29 October 1917.
Married to Susan Edith McDonald, they lived in Deptford, south London around six miles (10km) away (3).
Winston Churchill (who had formed the Division in 1914) unveiled the monument on 25 April 1925, the tenth anniversary of the Gallipoli landings (4).
Originally situated in its present location, next to the Old Admiralty Building (OAB) it was disassembled and placed in storage – leaving only its plinth in place – to enable the construction of the adjacent Admiralty Citadel, designed as an operations centre. In the event of a German invasion it would become a strongpoint for the defence of this historic and very important part of London.
Later it became a Royal Navy communications centre.
In 1952 the stored fountain pieces were installed at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, south east London (and not far from where James McDonald had lived).
After the Royal Navy left the site, the memorial returned in 2003 and re-erected on Horse Guards Parade (5) – although now looking somewhat squeezed between the OAB and the massive fortress-like Citadel.
Churchill was very appreciative of this example of Lutyens’ work. In his unveiling address he commented:
“Everyone, I think, must admire the grace & simplicity of this Fountain, which the genius of Lutyens has designed. The site is also well chosen. Here, under the shadow of the Admiralty building, where, 11 years ago, the Royal Naval Division was called into martial life, this monument now records their fame and preserves their memory… Doubts and disillusions may be answered by the sure assertion that the sacrifice of these men was not made in vain. And this Fountain to the memory of the Royal Naval Division will give forth not only the waters of honour, but the waters of healing and the waters of hope (5).
His thoughts on the Citadel were less complimentary, calling it:
“That vast monstrosity which weighs on the Horse Guards Parade” (6).
More details about the Memorial and the Royal Naval Division are available at the link below: https://greatwarlondon.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/royal-naval-division-memorial/ – Retrieved 27 July 2017
(2) http://www.webmatters.net/txtpat/?id=191 – Retrieved 27 July 2017
(3) http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/153221/McDONALD,%20JAMES – Retrieved 27 July 2017
(4) https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1392454 – Retrieved 27 July 2017
(5) https://c20society.org.uk/war-memorials/london-royal-naval-division-memorial-fountain/ – Retrieved 27 July 2017
(6) http://www.churchill-society-london.org.uk/chtruste.htm – Retrieved 27 July 2017