Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, August 6, 2020

London's Machine Gun Corps Memorial

On 19 July, I presented an article on World War One sites in London (HERE). Contributing Editor David Beer has pointed out one very impressive memorial that should have been included. It's the Machine Gun Corps Memorial at Hyde Park Corner.

Machine Gun Corps Memorial

The Machine Gun Corps of which His Majesty King George V was colonel-in-chief, was formed by royal warrant dated 14 day October 1915. The corps served in France, Flanders, Russia, Italy, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Salonica, India, Afghanistan, and East Africa. The last unit of the Corps to be disbanded was the depot at Shorncliffe on 15 July 1922. The total number who served in the Corps was some 11,500 officers and 159,000 other ranks of whom 1,120 officers and 12,671 other ranks were killed and 2,881 officers and 45,377 other ranks were wounded, missing, or prisoners of war.

The memorial's main figure is a noble and heroic but thoughtful and non-aggressive David, slayer of Goliath. David holds the massive two-handed sword of Goliath, having just beheaded the giant with it. He is flanked by a pair of realistically modelled Vickers guns, silent, barrels pointing down, bedecked with wreaths. The discarded helmets and coats of the gunners lie below. A  biblical verse on the plinth is from 1 Samuel 18 vii, reading: "Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands."

David (Detail)

The memorial was erected in 1925 next to Grosvenor Place (the road entering this traffic hell from the south) but was dismantled in 1945 due to roadworks. It was rededicated in its present location in 1963 at Hyde Park Corner. When the memorial was originally unveiled in 1925 there was outrage, many condemning it as glorifying war. Letters were written to the Times and questions asked in Parliament. 

The sculptor, Derwent Wood, served as a medical orderly in the trenches and later designed prosthetic masks for burns victims, so he was entirely aware of the nature of the conflict. His aim was to point out the solitary position of the machine gunners in their positions forward of the rest of the army facing the tide of the assault. Despite the carnage they inflicted, the machine gunners themselves faced the worst casualties of any unit, at about 30 percent, gaining the nickname "The Suicide Club."

Vickers Machine Gun (Detail)

Sources: Ornamental Passions (29 December 2014) and London Remembers

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article and photographs. Thank you! I can see how the monument could be interpreted as glorifying war--just as the Bible does at times.