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Angel masterpiece is superb memorial
12:00pm Thursday 25th October 2012 in News
OCTOBER 22, 1922 marked the 90th anniversary of the unveiling of the Kidderminster war memorial. So nearly four years elapsed from the Armistice of November 1918 which ended the First World War to the unvieling.
Such a delay was by no means exceptional, but, in the case of Kidderminster, the reason was that although a committee was formed in 1919, there was no agreement within it or in the town generally on the form of the memorial or on the siting of it.
Eventually it was agreed that the memorial should be in two parts; a bronze statue of the Angel of Peace and a series of panels bearing the names of the fallen. It was also decided to place it at the top of Church Street in front of St Mary’s Church, and to finance the project by public subscription.
There were certain key local personalities who took a lead in the process; the chairman of the War Memorial Committee Alderman William Cooke (1853-1938), who was Mayor in 1919 when the process started; Councillor Frederick Tandy, who was Mayor in October 1922; and Peter Adam (1855-1925), carpet manufacturer, who proposed the name of Alfred Drury, whom he knew, as the sculptor of the Angel of Peace.
Drury submitted sketches and plans, which were accepted by the Committee.
Alfred Briscoe Drury (1856-1944) is one of the great names of what was called the “New Sculpture” – other great names are Sir Alfred Gilbert and Sir Hamo Thornycroft.
His best work is probably in London – for example the sculptures outside the War Office and outside the Royal Exchange – but his Kidderminster Angel of Peace is scarcely, if at all, inferior to anything else he produced, though it is on a less massive scale than some of his work in London.
The angel is depicted as a female figure holding an olive branch in her uplifted right hand and a baby (Drury called it the “child of the future”) with her left arm. On the Portland stone plinth beneath the figure is a bronze wreath and a sculptural tableau depicting a dead soldier being crowned, as his wife and child look on, with a wreath of immortality by a winged female figure.
The other part of the memorial, a crescent-shaped series of panels, was designed by HJ Godwin of Kidderminster. In 1922 the panels carried the names of 661 Kidderminster men who died in the First World War. A further 159 names were added after the Second World War, and 17 more names were added in 2007 and 74 in 2010.
At present the panels have 682 names from the First World War and 229 from the Second World War, making a total of 911.
The names now include those of three women.
On the afternoon of October 22, 1922 at 3pm, The Earl of Coventry, the Lord Lieutenant of Worcestershire, solemnly removed a number of Union Jack flags from both parts of the war memorial “amid a hush that could be felt,” according to the Kidderminster Shuttle).
Alderman Cooke, as chairman of the committee, formally handed over the memorial to the Mayor. The Bishop of Worcester then dedicated it.
After hymns and the National Anthem had been sung, the Last Post and Reveille sounded and floral tributes places on both parts of the memorial, the large crowd, which stretched through the Bull Ring to the town hall, quietly dispersed.
In his speech from an improvised rostrum Lord Coventry quoted from Kipling’s poem, Recessional, the refrain “Lest we forget”. The annual Remembrance Day service and other events have ensured that we have not forgotten the sacrifice of the fallen.
But perhaps around the time of the 90th anniversary we should be more positive and remember certain other things: that the Angel of Peace is a masterpiece by one of the best British sculptors of the early 20th century, that nearly £3,560 was raised by the public subscription to pay for the memorial; and that many thousands of people attended in reverent silence one of the most important and solemn occasions in the history of the town in Kidderminster.
DON GILBERT Kidderminster historian