Thursday 18 July 2013

Waterloo War Memorial Arch, York Road SE1

Waterloo Station was in the throes of a rebuild when war broke out in 1914, a war that claimed the lives of 585 members of the railway staff. When peace came, it was decided to devote the only corner of the site that could be seen from any sort of distance to a memorial that would double as an imposing station entrance.
The sculpture was commissioned from the firm of Brindley and Farmer and may have been carved by Charles Whiffen.
Over the arch, Britannia 'holds aloft the sacred torch of Liberty to her own greatness and glory, and for the guidance of her children and her children's children, and the benefit of mankind in general', in the words of the Architect's Journal.
On either side, children play with the spoils of victory - a laurel wreath, surrendered ensigns etc.
To the left, a vision of 1914 with the goddess Bellona. Bellona is traditionally shown as a muse, a statuesque female in armour carrying a sword and a torch, but here she is more of a harpy, bringing suffering and death. Around her men and women shriek and mourn. To the left, a veiled woman raises the hand of blessing over a dead boy.
On the right, 1918 brings peace. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, courage, strategy, civilisation and just warfare, holds the figure of Nike, the winged goddess of victory and extends the palm of peace to a globe in the lap of a warrior with a sheathed sword. Behind, corn grows. A couple hold their infant son. It must have seemed richly ironic in 1939.

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