In 1924 Prince Albert, Duke of York (the future King George VI) dedicated three identical Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) memorials to the missing commemorating the personnel of the Royal Navy who were either buried or lost at sea in WW1. These are located at the important naval cities of Plymouth and Portsmouth, and at the Chatham Docks in Kent, all in the U.K.
The memorials consist of an obelisk with sculptures of recumbent lions on the base cornices and the names of the missing inscribed on bronze plaques around the base. All of these memorials were ‘updated’ in the early 1950’s to include the Royal Navy’s WW2 losses, which required the addition of wing panels or other appurtenances to the original structures, as well as additional sculptures, so the three are no longer identical.
The original obelisk design is four-sided and tapers slightly to the top where there are finials resembling the prows of sailing ships supporting a large verdigris copper ball representing the earth and signifying the Royal Navy’s global presence in that era.
These memorials are the work of Sir Robert Lorimer (1864-1929), a Scottish architect known particularly for the restoration and renovation of churches, castles and country houses, particularly in Scotland. He was the founder of the style called ‘Scots Baronial’, and also designed furniture in the ‘Arts and Crafts’ style. He lived and worked in Edinburgh for his entire life.
The only other monument commissions that Lorimer got from the CWGC were the Doiran Memorial to the Missing, which is located in Greece near modern Macedonia and the Giavera Memorial and Cemetery in Italy, both of which will be the subject of future articles. He designed the layout of thirty-eight other cemeteries for the CWGC, including four concentration sites in Germany for the POW dead , and he designed the standard CWGC headstone, which isn’t used in every cemetery because the stones tend to break in earthquakes.
Not for the CWGC, he designed the impressive Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle, and sixty-two smaller war memorials at locations in Australia, Egypt, Greece, Ireland and South Africa, as well as the U.K.
The sculptures on the original memorials were by Henry Poole (1873-1928). Most of his works were placed in commercial or public buildings, and many examples are no longer extant due to uncaring demolition. A noteworthy example that does survive is the statue honoring WW1 Ace Capt. Albert Ball VC DSO(3) MC (1896 – 1917) that stands at Nottingham Castle.
There are some aspects to the naval memorials to the missing that are either unusual or unique to the CWGC:
- They were identical when originally constructed,
- There is no cemetery, either attached or nearby,
- The Books of Names are not kept on site, but at other supervised locations and
- The memorials honor the missing of both world wars.
Missing Royal Naval personnel who served with the Royal Naval Division (another future article) are recognized on army memorials, and those of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) are listed on the Arras Memorial with those of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Air Force, as the latter was formed in March 1918 by the merger of the RNAS and the RFC.
The Chatham Docks memorial lists 18,621 names of which 8,515 are from WW1, Plymouth has 23,198 of which 7,251 are from WW1 and Portsmouth has 24,588 commemorated of which 9,568 are from WW1.