Remembering Land and Sea on Tower Hill

by Christina

I decided that a month dedicated to World War One remembrance would not be complete without a trip to the Tower of London to view the incredible Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red progressive exhibit that’s down in the famous grassy moat until 11 November. By now I’m sure that you’ve seen it, or pictures of it, but if not then click this link. 

It’s an art installation created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, and aims to fill the moat gradually, between August 5th (100 years since the first full day of fighting) and 11 November with over 800,000 delicate ceramic poppies – each one representing a British and colonial military fatality during WW1.

You can buy a poppy for £25 – with part of the proceeds split between 6 different military charities. And every night at sunset the Last Post is played, and a roll call of 180 names of military troops is read out.

It’s a startling sight – a normally green and tranquil looking place in the middle of a bustling city suddenly spilling over with bright, violent red.

Tower of London


Tower Hill


Tower Hill is full of people stopping to take photographs, or just to stand and stare quietly at the vast display in front of them. It’s right in the heart of London, in the City and surrounded by tourist attractions (the bridge, the Tower, the river, that large building that looks like a walkie talkie) and yet somehow, the pace slows a little up here. It’s quieter and more respectful. It’s peaceful. A proper memorial – and people don’t just walk on by. They stop and pay attention.


Tower Hill


There are even little, more personal memorials left for family members long gone.

Tower of London


Across the road is something a little less iconic that you might not even realise is there. I certainly didn’t until I nearly walked right on past it.

Trinity Square Gardens sits quietly next to Tower Hill Tube station, a tranquil place where people meander, sit, eat their lunch. It used to play home to the infamous Scaffold where many took their last breath – the last in 1747. Now it is home to something much better and less murderous – although sadly also death themed. The Edwin Lutyens’ Tower Hill Memorial (1928) sits here, split into two parts – one for each World War. It is dedicated to the 24,000 merchant sailors who died in both world wars and have no known grave. The World War One part of the memorial sits alongside the road, unassuming yet hulking in the form of a sheltered passageway, the walls covered with names of lost seamen from 1914-1918. It is majestic yet also blends somehow into the background – which is how I nearly came to miss it altogether.

Merchant Navy Memorial Aug 2014



Trinity Square Gardens




An excerpt from the information board that’s found in the Gardens, next to the memorial:

‘More than 17,000 men lost their lives while serving with the mercantile marine during the First World War. After the Armistice, the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission was determined to find an appropriate way to commemorate merchant seamen who had lost their lives through enemy action and had no grave but the sea. In consultation with several organisations representing merchant mariners, the Commission decided that a memorial bearing the names of the lost should be constructed on the Embankment, near the heart of maritime Britain – the Thames and the Port of London. The First World War Monument, a vaulted corridor of Portland stone, was designed by Sir Edward Lutyens and unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Mary on 12 December 1928. The bronze panels commemorate over 11,900 merchant navel personnel of the First World War. ‘

This memorial is by no means the only thing to see at Trinity Square Gardens. The World War Two memorial to merchant seamen takes the form of a sunken garden with a large compass in the centre. At the other end of the gardens, near the exit for the Tube station, there’s an anchor statue that serves as memorial to those lost in the Falklands War.


There’s a stretch of medieval wall also on that side of the gardens, built on Roman foundations. On the far side, at the end furthest from the embankment, there’s the towering white presence of the old Port of London Authority building (1922) with Father Thames gazing down on all his London subjects. Next to that, you can find Trinity House (1795) which houses the General Lighthouse Authority for England and Wales. The gardens themselves are green and full of flowers. There’s a lot to see here. And it’s the perfect place for a memorial. Much like the poppy installation across the road, this place is quiet and respectful and peaceful and beautiful in it’s remembrance.


Unlike the poppy installation across the road, people do walk on by or through without stopping to take a look around. I get the feeling it’s firmly filed under the heading Things in London You’ll Miss Through Not Paying Attention. In fact, the gardens were ranked #1531 of 2018 things to do in London by Lonely Planet travelers in 2013. Meaning – it’s pretty far down the list. Especially because it’s so near so many much more famous tourist attractions that screech out for your attention. But go and have a look -at the gardens themselves and at the beautiful, underrated war memorials that it holds.



All photographs Copyright Christina Owen (2014)




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A Selection of World War One Words and Pictures

by Christina

We’ve been thinking a lot about World War One this month, and looking at all the different ways there are to remember and commemorate. Sheldon has looked at the lives of some notable people that lived, worked and fought during WW1, as well as some striking cenotaphs and war memorials that can be found in the UK. We’ve also seen some examples of propaganda posters that were used at the time and read some letters from men who went to the front, who wrote to their families back home. Some died and some survived. I’ve been talking to people about WW1 a lot this month, as well as reading what I can and collecting anything that might be interesting for Cemetery Club.

Below is a collection of all the things that haven’t fit into any of our posts this month, but that are too interesting to discard. I hope you find something interesting. Leave us a comment and let us know how you’ve been remember World War One this month.


I spoke to my Dad after he read my review of the newly opened Imperial War Museum and it’s exhibitions of WW1. He said ‘your Grandpa was born during World War One you know’ and I said that I had vaguely known that.

‘He was born in 1917. He claimed it was in the middle of a zeppelin raid, but he liked to embellish things’.







An example of a field service postcard from 1914-1918, collected at The Imperial War Museum, July 2014.

A Field Service Postcard was a short letter that allowed soldiers to delete as appropriate from a set of pre-printed messages and proved a quick and effective way of letting their families back home know that they were safe, and the state of their health.

In 1916, 7.5 million items of mail were received by British soldiers per week, and 5 million sent home. Many of these items would have been Field Service Postcards.



Cross stitch

Cross stitch 2


A slightly wonky cross stitch memorial, by me. August 2014



My Dad lent me a book. It’s an old book and so I handled it with care (in fact, it’s a 1929 edition and it smells great! I handled it with a lot of care). It’s the diary of a writer who was called up for military service in 1916. It’s a compelling read that is often beautiful and sometimes shocking. Below is an extract that I found particularly poignant.

‘I decided to go for a solitary walk. I left the camp and strolled up a hill from where I could get a fine view of the surrounding country. 

I gazed in an eastward direction. All the snow had melted, the fields, the bare trees and hedges, were steeped in warm sunlight. In the distance there was a gentle slope crowned by a long line of poplars. 

Beyond the poplars, about eight miles away, there was something I did not see, although I knew it was there – a stupid, terrible, and uncouth monster that stretched in a zigzag winding course from the North Sea to the Alps. It was strangely silent at that hour, but I was fascinated by it and thought about it harder and harder, in spite of myself. I became increasingly conscious of it, and it grew upon me until it seemed to crush and darken everything beneath it’s intolerable weight.’

- from Combed Out by F. A. Voigt

combed out

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‘Incomparably Grave, Severe and Beautiful…’

by Sheldon

I’ll never forget the sight of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour’s son swinging on a Union flag on the Cenotaph in 2011, as part of the student demonstrations. The outrage that it caused, and the excuse that he wasn’t aware what the Cenotaph was, despite being an undergraduate history student at the University of Cambridge, revealed the nation’s fierce protective nature over its ancestors sacrifices in the War.

© Steve Parkinson 2010

© Steve Parkinson 2010

Families who had lost sons, brothers, husbands and fathers between 1914 – 1918 received little consolation that they had been buried where they fell, miles away from home. It wasn’t enough for the grieving general public to have war graves so far away. Memorials which typified the national loss represented a contemplative place where people could gather and mourn the fallen.

War memorials up and down the country were constructed as reminders of ‘the War to end all Wars’.

via the Imperial War Museum

via the Imperial War Museum

The most famous of these is Edwin Lutyens Cenotaph, or ‘Empty Tomb’. Constructed of Portland stone like many other London landmarks, notably St Paul’s Cathedral and the façade of Buckingham Palace. Erected in 1920 as part of the ceremony that welcomed the Unknown Warrior into his grave in Westminster Abbey, it replaced an earlier structure (made of wood and plaster) which was unveiled  on 19 July 1919, for the Peace Parade which celebrated the formal end to the War after the signature of the Treaty of Versailles. Its popularity led to the creation of the stone version, which was unveiled as the Warrior went past.

The Times described it as ‘incomparably grave, severe and beautiful’. If you look closely, the sides of the Cenotaph aren’t parallel. If you were to extend them they would meet at a point 980 feet above ground. The horizontal surfaces are in fact arcs of a circle whose centre would be 900 feet above ground. This clever bit of design was missing in the wooden predecessor, but Lutyens, who’d designed things ranging from Country houses to parts of Delhi, included this genius feature, as well as waiving his fee for his involvement.

The Bristol Cenotaph ©Sheldon K. Goodman 2014

The Bristol Cenotaph ©Sheldon K. Goodman 2014

The Cenotaph inspired many other memorials, some designed by Lutyens himself. An exact replica stands in Ontario, Canada, as well as smaller reproductions in Maidstone and Reading. I was in Bristol recently and saw the Bristol Cenotaph there, which although made from a different stone clearly has visual influences from the memorial Lutyens built to the dead of our armed forces.

Although the official ceremony marking the centenary was based in Westminster Abbey on the night of the 4th August, a small band of people met at the Cenotaph and held their own vigils to remember the fallen in their own way. In many ways I thought that was just as powerful as the official service.


If you ever find yourself walking down Whitehall, take a moment to venture into Horse Guards Parade where you can see another memorial Lutyens designed, this time honouring the lives lost in the Royal Navy – conveniently attached to the Admiralty buildings. It was installed in memory of 45,000 members of the Royal Naval Division (formed by then First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, from surplus naval troops) who died during World War I. It was removed to the Royal Naval College in the 1950’s but restored to its original position in 2003.

This post only covers a small portion of the public remembrances that were built to mark a conflict that changed the course of history. Why not share your photos of your favourite war memorials with us via Twitter and Facebook?

My thanks to Emmanuel Lebaut in assisting the research of this post. 

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Letters from the Front






Collated by Christina

007 (2)


004 (2)


005 (2)


All produced by St George’s Parish Church Beckenham and displayed on 4/8/2014


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‘The Charge of the Light Brigade Fades to Nothing…’

by Sheldon

The Hooge Crater, 1915 © Drake Goodman

It was a warm summers day near Richebourg l’Avoué. That was the only redeeming feature of Tuesday 22nd June 1915. The rolling countryside and greenery that usually typified Northern France had been forcibly replaced with sandbags, muddy trenches and battle-scarred fields. Barbed wire stuck out of the ground in angry defiance: no rational man would dare leave the safety of the hastily built trench that sheltered him.

A thirty year old man leant against the trench and looked up wearily at the sky. He was a career soldier who had studied at Harrow and Sandhurst, and a Sir. Joining the Seaforth Highlanders in 1904, his career had seen him posted to Aldershot and Edinburgh, even acting as the King’s personal bodyguard in 1911.  Nothing prepared him for the brutality that he’d witnessed in the trenches. ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade fades to nothing compared with what we’ve witnessed in this War’ was an opinion he once shared amongst his colleagues.

If his eyes had worked properly, he’d be in the Navy, he thought to himself. But this was no place to admonish himself on what-ifs and maybes. This was a War zone. The expansive Loch Broom estate where he’d grown up in Scotland was miles away. Fond memories of stalking Stags and fishing Salmon were but distant memories, almost from another lifetime. No sooner had he wondered what would happen, the whistle blew and the call for action registered.

‘Good luck, men.’
‘Good luck, Captain John.’

There was nothing else to say as they climbed the flimsy ladders into the onslaught of shelling, bullets and certain death.


The story continues one week later. Deep in the Highlands the Foich Burial Ground hides amongst dense evergreen trees. A large group of mourners, including members of the Seaforth Highlanders, workers on the estate and local people crowd around a coffin that’s draped in a Union Flag.

Image originally found at Am Baile

Image originally found at Am Baile

Lady Fowler wept as she placed her hand on the bier. She’d lost her youngest son Alan in the same bloody War two months earlier, the victim of a minenwerfer bomb. The clan had lost it’s young men.

This was a fairly typical situation many other families faced. But this is one of the last instances of a deceased soldier being brought back home from the Front to be buried – shortly afterwards the practice was stopped by Fabian Ware, who went on to create the Commonwealth War Graves Commission . Captain Fowler was fortunate enough to have had a family with influence and money, so never mind what the official stance on bringing back the dead was – it was decided his body be brought back to be buried in his private estate. The funeral service, concluding in the magnificence of the Scottish Highlands provided closure to his Mother and Wife: his younger brother’s body was never found. At least with John, they knew they could rest easy knowing he was back in British soil.

That was the end of Sir John Fowler and a direct line from the first Baronet of Braemore. There were no more men to continue the line as Sir John had died without an heir.

However there was a man in the family the title defaulted to. A middle-aged man who watched the ceremony with tears in his eyes. He’d watched both of his nephews turn into gallant young men who fought devotedly for their King and country. Protected from the War for his faith and charity work yet quietly grieving the death of his wife four years beforehand, the busiest man in Holy orders was to become a lot busier.

For the Reverend Montague Fowler, third son of eminent Victorian engineer and Brompton resident Sir John Fowler, was now a Sir.

More information on the life of John Fowler can be read here.

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Propaganda Posters of WW1

by Christina

Please click on all the links as you read through this post – there are hundreds more World War 1 propaganda posters to look at. 

When Britain went to war in 1914, it only had a small, professional army. There was no policy of national service in place as there was in countries like France and Germany. Before the introduction of Conscription in 1916, Britain had to rely on volunteers for it’s army, and that’s where recruitment posters came in. Britain produced scores of these – the first were intended to show the glory of war and appealed to those with an enthusiastic and adventurous spirit. Then came posters that urged men to do their ‘duty’, and then some that played on other emotions, like shame and guilt.


There Are Three Types of Men  1915

There Are Three Types of Men



Women of Britain Say 'Go!' by E J Kealey 1915

Women of Britain Say ‘Go!’ by E J Kealey 1915


Daddy, What did You do in the Great War? by Savile Lumley 1914

Daddy, What did You do in the Great War? by Savile Lumley

Posters like these proved initially successful but in the end, numbers required for active service in the British Army were such that conscription was introduced. Recruitment posters were still used for the duration of the war, despite the fact that men were now being ‘called up’ rather than being asked to volunteer. From 1917, American war posters also became popular.

Posters were used for other purposes too, including to encourage a thrifty way of living, and to recruit women to fill roles that men would have done before the war, as well as for nursing and house maid roles.


National Service - Women's Land Army by Henry George Gawthorn

National Service – Women’s Land Army by Henry George Gawthorn

V.A.D by Joyce Dennys 1915

V.A.D by Joyce Dennys

Women's Royal National Service by Joyce Dennys

Women’s Royal National Service
by Joyce Dennys




All postcards seen here are scanned from my personal postcard collection and were bought from the Imperial War Museum London, July 2014



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The Uncomfortable Hero

By Sheldon

Thousands of mourners crammed themselves into the Colonnades to witness the gun-carriage that bore the remains of a national hero. He was one of the many men who’s lives had been cut tragically short by a new kind of War. Remarkably, as he was laid to rest, film cameras immortalised the moment at roughly 5:00pm on the 21st June 1915.


Warneford was born in Darjeeling, India, and lived in Somerset for a time before returning with his family to India to work at the British-India Steam Navigation Company, which specialised in transporting mail between Calcutta and Rangoon. At the outbreak of the First World War, he was in Canada. He promptly returned back to Britain where he joined the Army but almost immediately transferred to the Royal Navy Air Service for pilot training.

His enthusiasm and prowess for flying aircraft drew him considerable attention: he was clearly very good. Training at Hendon and then completing his instruction at Upavon, the Commander of Naval Air Stations observed ‘this youngster will either do big things or kill himself‘.


It was on the 7th June 1915 when his name spread throughout the world. He had received orders to attack the Berchem St Agathe Airship Shed, but instead saw an Airship, one of three that had tried to cross the Channel but failed due to the foggy conditions. He immediately sprung into action. He opened fire, to which the Zeppelin retaliated. He ascended to 11,000 feet as the Zeppelin began to turn on him, ingeniously cutting his own engines so they wouldn’t be able to locate him from the sound of his engines. At the height of 7,000 feet he was above the airship where he dropped his bombs. It was doomed.

Cutting his own engines? He was either brave or mad, but his plan worked, although skirted with death. The manoeuvre damaged the joint between the petrol pipe and pump so was forced to land thirty odd miles behind enemy lines. Repairing his plane, he then flew back to base once repairs had been made.

Kaiser_Rex Warneford poster

Unhappily dealing with now being the British Army’s poster-boy, On the 17th June 1915 he just attended a celebratory Lunch in aid of his recently earnt Légion d’honneur. Afterwards, he headed to the aerodrome at Buc in order to ferry an aircraft for delivery to the Royal Navy Air Station at Veurne. He completed a test flight and then offered an American journalist by the name of Henry Beach Newman a chance to fly with him, offering a view of Paris from the air.

As the plane soared 700 feet into the air, something went wrong. Just as the plane was beginning to land, the plane began to spin, and then went into a dive. At 700 feet the aeroplane started to roll and turned upside down, throwing both men out of their seats. Newman died instantly. What exactly happened still remains a mystery – did Warneford push the plane too much or did Newman panic and seize controls? His sense of dread turned out to be well-founded: he died two days later at the British Military Hospital in the Trianon Palace Hotel at Versailles.

The Government took over the planning of his funeral, turning it into a propaganda event which attracted people in their thousands. Remarkably, key clips of his service are available to been seen on the British Pathe website (which can be seen here), and not only does it show the old style scale of funerals which underpinned the existence of the Magnificent Seven, but it shows one, in this case our old favourite Brompton – in its prime.

Warneford's funeral.3.jpl

His headstone was financed by readers of the Daily Express, and shows an image of him above a relief of his achievement of downing the Zeppelin, although the plane shown is not actually the one he used.


Lest We Forget the courage of men like him, for we owe the world of today to them.

My thanks to Martin Sterling who assisted in the research for this post.

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