THE First World War ended 100 years ago, the UK has over the last days, weeks and months remembered those who fought and died in terrifying numbers.
Sixteen million died many more survived with minds and bodies that were shattered. While those who fought on Land and in the Air are rightly memorialised I feel that a word here ought to be spared for those who lost their lives at sea.
The sailors and fishermen of the Merchant Marine. More than 3300 ships were lost during the First War and many more again during the Second.
After the First War there was a veritable tidal wave of monument and memorial building across the United Kingdom, in 1928 Queen Mary unveiled the Mercantile Marine War Memorial.
The memorial is a vaulted corridor in the style of a Doric temple and was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.
Similar to monuments in cemeteries on the western front the walls are clad with bronze panels where the names of the missing are recorded. For obvious reasons, the sea itself is their grave.
The principal dedication reads: “TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND TO THE HONOUR OF TWELVE THOUSAND OF THE MERCHANT NAVY AND FISHING FLEETS WHO HAVE NO GRAVE BUT THE SEA. 1914-1918.
The monument is placed near the Tower of London on Tower Hill, the area having numerous maritime connections.
Yet in the minds of most the Cenotaph is the iconic memorial with the annual Remembrance parade making the Cenotaph the heart of the nation’s commemorations. The memorial to the seamen of the Merchant fleet is at a distance from the royal processional routes and to an extent out of sight.
Lying as it does on the edge of the business district and nearer the port the memorial has not captured the attention of the public in the same way.
In 1955 it was joined by a second memorial. One to commemorate those sailors lost to the sea during the Second World War. Unveiled by a very young Queen Elizabeth II there was no public mood to endure a second wave of monument building and instead monuments to the First War were expanded and adapted to accommodate the new casualties.
The architect Edward Maufe proposed the expansion should take the form of a sunken garden. The semi circular garden is set behind the First World War memorial with 132 bronze panels that encircle the garden and bear the names of the missing.
Next time you are visiting London and the Tower take a moment to pause and visit the Memorial and Garden to seamen and fishermen; reflect, then perhaps spare a prayer for those lost at sea.