royal naval division memorialIn 1915, alternatives to static fighting on the Western Front were actively being considered and a plan was drawn up to capture the Turkish-controlled Dardanelles and to subsequently break through to Russia. The operations began in February 1915 as purely an Allied Naval operation, which was not successful, and a full scale Anglo-French invasion began on 18 March 1915 to be followed by the landing of an Allied troops during the following month.

The servicemen who took part in the landings which began on 25 April were drawn from Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and France all of which were to suffer high casualties. The disastrous operation ended 9 months later with the evacuation of the troops in January 1916.

Part of the British contribution to the landings was the involvement of the Royal Naval Division which had only been formed a year before. By the end of the war in 1918 the division was to suffer 45,000 casualties of whom 11,507 officers and men were killed or died. Having served throughout the war on the Western Front, Gallipoli and Salonika, this hybrid division, partly army and partly naval, was formally disbanded in 1919. At an official service of disbandment which took place on Horse Guards Parade on 6 June 1919, the then Prince of Wales took the salute; in his speech he singled out two members of the Division, Brigadier-Generals Bernard C Freyberg VC CMG DSO and Arthur M Asquith DSO (a son of Herbert Asquith, the former British prime minister) for special praise.

The first idea of how best to commemorate the Division's role and its casualties was for them to be remembered as part of a joint Naval Memorial which would include not only members of the Royal Navy but also members of the Merchant Navy, Submariners and the Royal Marines. As a result, a Naval Memorial Committee was formed on 24 May 1921 and the British government agreed to cover up £40,000 for the costs. According to a file (1) in the National Archives, the initial plan was for St Faith’s Chapel in the crypt of St Paul’ s to be adapted into a memorial and that Sir Edwin Lutyens would be asked to draw up plans and designs. The great architect produced a scheme which would cost £23,000. The chapel site was deemed particularly suitable as the memorial would be close to the tomb of the naval hero, Admiral Lord Nelson. However, the whole scheme was later abandoned.

After the idea of involvement with the Royal Naval Memorial commemoration was dropped, a new committee was formed which would pursue a scheme of the Division’s own. The committee was an unusually large one and its membership included the names of Asquith, Freyberg, Winston Churchill, Edward Marsh and Major-General Sir Arthur Paris. At an early stage the sculptor, Charles Jagger, was approached by Sir Lionel Earle on 26 January 1923 about the possibility of a suitable design. He was also asked whether £3,000 would cover the cost. There is no traceable reply from him about this idea and it seems that a site at the base of the Duke of York’ s steps was then offered to the RND but, later, this offer was withdrawn. Borrowing a suggestion from the abandoned Royal Navy Memorial scheme, a site close to the Submarine Memorial on the Embankment was then suggested, but this idea didn’ t find favour with the RND Memorial Fund Committee. On 30 January, Brigadier-General Asquith wrote to Earle enquiring about a site on the north side of Trafalgar Square. It was also about this time that Asquith also asked Lutyens for advice and the architect considered that either the north or west side of the square would do; he also added the idea of a corner in the south-west corner of Horse Guards Parade might be available and that a fountain design might be considered. The link between Lutyens and a design was almost certainly through RND hero, Bernard Freyberg VC, who had married into the Jekyll family.

The site as well as the idea of a fountain appealed to Asquith and, by 4 July, Lutyens had produced a preliminary drawing. After certain modifications Lutyens’ fountain design for Horse Guards was approved by King George V in July 1924 and also by the Royal Fine Arts Commission. Made of Portland stone, it was to consist of a central obelisk which arose from a shallow basin and was slightly above the balustrade which flanked the original Admiralty building at the nearest point to St James’s Park. The main inscription on the south side was to be: ‘In Memory of the Officers and Men of the Royal Naval Division who gave their lives for their country 1914 - 1918.’ On the west side it included a verse by Rupert Brooke taken from his poem, "The Dead". The poet had died of blood poisoning when serving with the Hood Battalion, part of the Naval Division, when on his way to Gallipoli. At each corner is inscribed the names of the battle fronts in which the Division had fought: ‘Antwerp 1914, Gallipoli 1915 - 1916, Salonika 1916, France and Belgium 1916 – 1918.’ The emblems on the base included the names of units which had served with the Division and which were carved by Eric R Broadbent; two more were added in 1931 bringing the total to 18 (at this point the opportunity was taken to re-carve and re-guild several of the carved badges which showed signs of decay).

The memorial was unveiled by Major-General Sir Archibald Paris, GSO of the Division on Gallipoli on the 10th anniversary of the landings (also now known as Anzac Day), 25 April 1925. He had been in command of the defence of Antwerp in 1914. Winston Churchill, who had virtually formed the Division in the first place when he was First Lord at the Admiralty and who also knew Rupert Brooke, gave an address in which he used the following words:

Everyone, I think, must admire the grace and 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.” (The Times, 27 April 1925).

Rupert Brooke’s mother was one of the guests who attended the service of dedication and the Order of Service included her son’s sonnet, ‘If I should Die….’

Sadly the memorial design using a water fountain as well as battalion crests and inscriptions was not successful in practical terms and, prior to 1939, there is a lot of information in the National Archive files alluding to water damage; fountains which didn’t work, the memorial shifting, weather damage, etc, all of which resulted in the necessity of regular plumbing maintenance and, on occasion, the re- arving of several of the badges and inscriptions. In March 1939 the unit crests were still giving problems and a fluoride solution was used with which to clean them but, with the likelihood of another war with Germany looming, there were more pressing needs. In the end the whole memorial had to be later taken down and put into storage in order to help in allowing space for building the Citadel in 1940, which was to be used as an Admiralty communications centre in preparation for war. (The Citadel was still used after the end of the Second World War but, by 1963, was considered to be redundant. Any idea of knocking it down was deemed out of the question as it was built too strongly and taking it down would be a major operation; it would also be a very expensive one, as well as hugely disruptive to the whole area. Strangely, the building was even an illegal one in the first place as it was built on Park land but without the authority of Parliament. )

The RND memorial had been taken down in sections, including the fountain which weighed six tons, and taken to the yard of Messrs Holloway in Streatham Road, Battersea. Although the builder charged £178 (2) for the removal, he made no charge for storage in his yard which was then also sheltering a statue of James II, and a memorial to the Royal Marines. In order to give them greater protection the carvings and other details from the RND memorial were encased. The memorial remained in Battersea until May 1943 when it was decided to move it to Gordon House, Royal Hospital, Chelsea.

After the Second World War ended it was to be several years before the memorial’s original or any other site for that matter was again available. In May 1948 a proposal was made to take the memorial to Greenwich where it could be placed on the south side of Queens House in the park. The cost, in May 1949, would be £2,500. Later the structure was rebuilt close to Greenwich College Naval College and rededicated in 1951 but, when Naval links with the College ceased, it was returned to its original site in Horse Guards near the former Admiralty building and rededicated in 2003. Probably only a few veterans were left by then, the last reunion having been on 31 May 1981, but the Daily Mail, a newspaper once owned by Lord Northcliffe, Rothermere’ s brother, raised awareness of the need to honour the memory of those who had served in the Division. Surprisingly the sections of the memorial had survived their various moves well, as did the fountain pipework, so the task of reinstatement was relatively straightforward. The whole operation, including the cost of maintaining the memorial in perpetuity, was nearly £250,000 which was funded by a memorial appeal under the patronage of Charles, Prince of Wales who also attended the service of rededication on Beaucourt Day, 13 November 2003. Part of the funding was provided by the War Memorials Trust together with £7,500 through the English Scheme for War Memorial Repairs and conservation.

As a footnote to the Daily Mail links with the memorial: Lord Rothermere, the newspaper tycoon who had lost two sons during the Great War including one in the the Beaucourt battle (Battle of the Ancre) on the Somme in November 1916, had paid for an initial memorial to the Division which had been erected at Beaucourt-sur-Ancre on a spot where Freyberg and the 189th Infantry Brigade made a stand. Its foundation stone had been laid by November 1921.

When visiting the Horse Guards Parade memorial today, visitors will find the memorial wording includes the following additional information:

“… This memorial designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens was unveiled on the Horse Guards Parade at the corner of the Admiralty on April 25th 1925 the tenth anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli.

Removed in 1940, erected at Greenwich in 1951

And re installed on this site in 2003


Article contributed by Gerald Gliddon © April 2015.

Photograph by Tim Skelton.

Dr Graham Keech
Tim Skelton

National Archives:
(1) ADM1 /26961 ADM 116/2961 ADM 116/2091
(2) NA Work 20/231
(3) Royal Naval Division Memorial Navy News, February 2003.


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