WWI 100: London’s Memorials… The Imperial Camel Corps
Of the many WWI memorials in London, one of the more unusual is that of the Imperial Camel Corps which can be found close to the Thames in Victoria Embankment Gardens.
Raised in December 1916 the Camel Corps was, unsurprisingly, established for desert warfare.
The first men to join the Corps were Australian troops, recently returned from the hellish Gallipoli campaign. The Aussies were soon joined by comrades from Britain, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore and India.
At its height the Corps, which fought in numerous campaigns throughout the Middle East, comprised of 4,150 men and 4,800 camels. Thanks to their humped steeds, the soldiers were able to travel long distances across remote desert terrain, carrying machine guns, mountain artillery and medical support.
346 troops from the Imperial Camel Corps lost their lives.
The small memorial, which was sculpted by Major Cecil Brown who himself had served with the Corps, was unveiled in July 1921 in the presence of the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand. The statue is now grade II listed.
A gallery featuring images of the Imperial Camel Corps Memorial can be viewed below:
WWI 100: London’s Memorials… The London Troop Monument
The London Troops Monument
The Royal Exchange
It is estimated that around 900,000 men from London fought in the Great War, approximately 300,000 of who were killed or injured.
Standing outside the Royal Exchange in the heart of the financial district, the ‘London Memorial’ lists all of the regiments from the capital involved in the horrendous conflict and commemorates the countless Londoners who lost their lives.
The memorial’s Portland stone plinth was designed by the then President of the Royal Academy, Sir Aston Webb (who was also responsible for Admiralty Arch and the Queen Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace), whilst the two figures standing either side were created by Alfred Drury.
The memorial is topped with a small lion, bearing a shield adorned with St George and the Dragon.
The memorial is Sir Aston Webb’s second design– his first idea was quite different, consisting of two 75 ft. tall flag poles at the base of which would have been statues of Victory and Peace.
Costing £7,000 (around £150,000 in today’s money), the monument was funded by public donations.
In order to make room for the memorial, a fountain topped by a statue of Temperance- which had been on the site since 1861 after being presented by the philanthropist, Samuel Gurney, required removal. It was relocated and can be seen today at the northern end of Blackfriars Bridge.
The London Troops Memorial was unveiled in foggy conditions on the afternoon of the 12th November 1920 by the Duke of York who was accompanied by the Lord Mayor and the Bishop of London.
The Duke of Connaught (the King’s Uncle) was also due to participate but had to bow out due to bronchitis. He sent a telegram which was read out at the ceremony;
“While deeply regretting that I cannot unveil the memorial to London’s splendid soldiers, my thoughts and feelings are with you at today’s interesting occasion and I hope the memorial will always recall the gallant services rendered by London’s sons…”
WWI 100: London’s Memorials… Finsbury War Monument
Finsbury War Monument
Spa Green, Rosebery Avenue
Just across the road from Saddler’s Wells Theatre on Rosebery Avenue is a small, pleasant park called Spa Green, a major feature of which is the Finsbury War Monument.
Unveiled on the 15th September 1921 and costing £3,000 (approximately £88,000 in today’s money), the memorial was funded by donations from local residents to commemorate the men of the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury who had fought and died in the Great War (Finsbury was abolished as administrative district in 1965 and now comes under the London Borough of Islington).
Because it is representative at a distinctly local level, the monument is unusual in that it commemorates all three branches of the armed forces as well as specific battles in which they fought.
The north-west side is dedicated to the Finsbury Rifles (the 11th London Regiment) who fought in France, Belgium, Gallipoli, Egypt, Palestine and Syria. A bronze plaque depicts their part in the Second Battle of Gaza which raged against the Ottoman Army for several days in April 1917.
Originally there were two other bronze reliefs depicting other battles attached to the plinth. Sadly, they were stolen many years ago and have been replaced with granite inscriptions.
On the north-east side, the navy are commemorated; “These are they that went down to the sea in ships and did business in great waters…”
More specifically, the Zeebrugge Raid of April 23rd 1918, in which the Royal Navy attempted to block German access to the Belgian port, is commemorated. The raid resulted in the loss of 200 lives and saw 8 Victoria Crosses awarded.
The south-east side of the memorial is dedicated to those who flew, fought and died in the Royal Flying Corps throughout the duration of the war. The granite plaque is aptly adorned with a little propeller set against a blue background.
Also commemorated on the south side are those of the Honourable Artillery Company who fought in Egypt, Palestine, Italy, Belgium, Aden and Syria. A third, smaller plaque was added at a later date in memory of those who died in WWII.
The large statue on top of the plinth is a representation of the Roman goddess, Victory and was sculpted by Thomas Rudge at his studio on Bolingbroke Grove, Wandsworth.
Today, Rudge’s sculpture appears to be a very popular spot for London’s pigeons whose gentle flapping and cooing is often the only sound to be heard in this solemn, peaceful place.
* * *