WW2 Memorials in London
Updated: Jan 22, 2021
Grab a bike and remember those we have so much to be thankful for.
I did a solo loop on Monday which would be too energetic for children within our allotted exercise period but take your pick from the ones I saw.
1. Bomber Command Memorial
Top left corner of Green Park, adjacent to Hyde Park Corner, opp the Hard Rock Cafe
Unveiled by the Queen in 2012, I am ashamed to say that until this week I had never visited this memorial to the 55,573 members of Bomber Command who lost their lives. The seven bronze figures of a Bomber Command aircrew are imposingly big (so that you always see the sky behind them when you are looking up) but the most striking thing about this sculpture is its informality and intimacy. Kit bags slung over shoulders, belts unbuckled, gloves tucked into a chest strap, it is as though you have chanced upon the men walking back to barracks after a sortie.
Look above you and the roof of the memorial incorporates sections of aluminium recovered from a Handley Page Halifax III bomber shot down over Belgium on the night of 12 May 1944, in which eight crew were killed. Three members of the crew were still at their stations when the aircraft was excavated in 1997. If you only pay one visit, make it to this one. For more info, visit rafbf.org.
2. Battle of Britain Memorial
Victoria Embankment, by Westminster Pier, opp the London Eye
The Battle of Britain raged over our skies from 10 July to 31 October, 1940 and is the source of Churchill's famous tribute, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
This long bronze double-sided sculpture is in two pieces and is a walk-around story both of the airmen themselves and those on the ground. Find the spotters looking for enemy planes, the ground staff, the women working in the munitions factories. London was especially badly hit and St Paul's famous dome stands defiantly in relief.
The centrepiece of the monument is a 'Scramble', the airmen run towards their craft having received the order to scramble to intercept enemy planes. There is heaps of detail in the various tableaux that will engage children and spark conversations. The BBM website has lots of interesting background and facts that are worth checking out before visiting.
3. Women in War Memorial
Whitehall, just north of the Cenotaph
A couple of minutes walk from the Battle of Britain Memorial is this imposing tribute to the part played by women during World War II. It is in the middle of the road so you will be grateful for the empty streets of Lockdown London and you should look round both sides. There are no people in this monument. The empty coats, uniforms, dungarees, hats and bags hang suspended - the ghosts of their wearers movingly invoked.
4. Air Raid Shelters
Great North Street, SW1
A small detour to Great North Street, off Smith Square, contains an unofficial memorial to daily life during the Blitz. The above photos are not good as I couldn't get very close (someone was inside having his tea!) but when you are there you can easily read the words, 'Public Shelters in Vaults under Pavements in this Street' on one wall and the 'S' for shelter sign on the next door house.
5. Violette Szabo and the SOE
Albert Embankment, in front of Lambeth Palace
The Special Operations Executive, SOE, recruited volunteer agents who operated undercover in occupied territory. Violette Szabo, whose sculpture is on the plinth, was one such agent. She was caught on her second mission into France and imprisoned in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. She was executed there in 1945, aged 23. She was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre and was among 117 SOE agents who did not survive their missions to France.
6. Hyde Park Holocaust Memorial
Hyde Park, a couple of hundred yards SE of the Serpentine
Set in a calm garden lined with silver birch trees and horse chestnuts in bloom, Britain's first Holocaust Memorial was unveiled in 1983. The inscription on the central boulder, in both English and Hebrew, is from the Book of Lamentations, ""For these I weep. Streams of tears flow from my eyes because of the destruction of my people."
One NOT to visit: From here, I went on to St Paul's Cathedral looking for the memorial by Richard Kindersley to the people of London who were killed during the Blitz but this was an error. I peered through the hoardings of the redevelopment and it seems to have vanished. I would love hear from anyone who knows where it is.
15 January 2021