WW1 100: London’s Memorials… The London & South Western Railway Victory Arch (Waterloo Station, Part 5)
London & South Western Railway Victory Arch
Cab Road, Waterloo Station
As we’ve seen in earlier installments,Waterloo station developed in an extremely haphazard manner throughout the Victorian period.
With the terminal divided into various sub-stations, platform numbers laid out in a manner defying all common sense and a set of tracks running directly across the main pedestrian concourse (a Health and Safety nightmare by today’s standards), it is perhaps no surprise that Waterloo was branded “the most perplexing station in London.”
Realising that their ultimate dream of establishing a grand terminal within the heart of the City was off the cards, the board of the London and South Western Railway decided to completely redesign Waterloo and forge it into a station fit for purpose.
Work on the rebuild began in the late 1890s but progress was slow… with one of the main obstacles being the outbreak of hostilities in 1914.
During the Great War, 585 employees of the London and South Western Railway were killed whilst fighting for their country.
In recognition of this appalling loss, the company decided to incorporate a bold war memorial- a ‘Victory Arch’- into the new station’s entrance in honour of their fallen workers.
The new station- the Waterloo familiar with today’s commuters- was finally completed in March 1922.
King George V was due to conduct the opening ceremony but was forced to bow out due to illness, so Queen Mary stepped in to do the honours.
A number of decorated veterans from the Great War were also in attendance for the grand event… please click below to view footage of the station’s opening.
Although millions of passengers sweep beneath Waterloo’s Victory Arch every year, very little is known about its creator, other than that he is believed to have been a Mr Charles Edward Whiffen, a Cheltenham-born sculptor who lived and died at Altenburg Gardens, Clapham.
When he died in 1929, Charles Whiffen had just £662 and 15 shillings to his name.
Waterloo’s Victory Arch is dominated by a sculpture of Britannia bearing the torch of liberty.
Below Britannia, the names of the Great War’s major theatres are listed in a carved arc: Belgium, Italy, Dardanelles, France, Mesopotamia, Egypt and the North Sea.
Either side of the arc stand two further sculptures.
On the left, representing the outbreak of war in 1914, squats Bellona; the ancient Roman goddess of war.
This suitably demonic figure holds court amongst a terrified entourage.
On the opposite side of the arch, representing peace and the 1918 armistice, sits Athena; the goddess of courage and wisdom.
Athena, who is accompanied by a far more relaxed group than the unfortunate bunch cowering around Bellona, is depidted clutching two objects; a palm of peace and a miniature figure of Nike; the winged goddess of victory.
Solemn plaques, bearing the names of the many LSWR railwaymen lost in the conflict line the interior of the arch.
If you are a regular user of Waterloo, please spare a thought for these long lost names… and remember that missing your train by a few minutes is nothing in comparison to the hellish conditions in which these young men met their awful fate.
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.
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