How artist carved a career sculpting war memorials

Royal Artillery Memorial The Driver' photo by Peter Jary
Royal Artillery Memorial The Driver' photo by Peter Jary
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After the cessation of hostilities in the Great War, cities, towns and villages the length and breadth of the country, quite fittingly, established committees in subsequent years to oversee the erection of war memorials commemorating the thousands who were killed in the conflict.

A number of committees in and outside London, as well as abroad, commissioned a South Yorkshire man, Charles Sergeant Jagger, to sculpt memorials for them.

His most noted works are the Great Western Railway war memorial at Paddington railway station and the Royal Artillery memorial at Hyde Park Corner.

Born in Kilnhurst, near Rotherham on December 17, 1885, the son of a colliery manager, Jagger left school at 14 to learn the painstaking task of engraving on silver with Sheffield firm Mappin & Webb. In the evenings he studied at Sheffield School of Art.

On leaving Mappin & Webb he studied at the Royal College of Art, London and, on the outbreak of war in 1914, enlisted with the Artists’ Rifles.

Later, he was awarded a commission in the 4th battalion of the Worcester Regiment and, in time, saw action in Gallipoli and on the Western Front.

During the hostilities, Jagger was gassed and wounded several times and eventually awarded the Military Cross.

One of his first commissions came from the British War Memorials Committee and he produced a large relief entitled the First Battle of Ypres.

Throughout the 1920s Jagger was extremely busy with war memorial work and undertook commissions for Manchester (1921), Southsea (1921), Brimington (1922), the Great Western Railway Company (1922), the Royal Artillery (1921-5), Belgium’s Anglo Belgian War Memorial (1922-3), Nieuwpoort (1926-8), Cambrai (1927-8) and Port Tawfiq (1927-8).

According to Ann Compton in the book Charles Sergeant Jagger: War and Peace Sculpture (1985), Jagger admitted that he showed “the Tommy as I knew him in the trenches”.’He unquestionably sympathised with ordinary soldiers.

“They were the kind of men he had been brought up with in Kilnhurst,” said the author. It is also pointed out that in Jagger’s memorial drawings and sculptures the figures project a heroic quality which is expressive of pride and independence.

Ann Compton adds that Jagger memorialises a fact which remained unchanged by the economic depression in 1920s Britain: “The ‘common man’ had not only helped significantly to win the war at the front but at home men and women had worked to make Britain the munitions factory of Europe.”

On Armistice Day, Saturday November 11, 1922, Viscount Churchill unveiled the Great Western Railway War Memorial on platform one. It was dedicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Being one of Jagger’s finest works in the capital, he executed the main figure in bronze whilst the architectural work was undertaken by TS Tait.

The memorial commemorated the 2,524 Great Western Railway employees who gave their lives in the 1914-1918 war.

Depicted looking down and reading a letter from home, the main central figure is dressed in battle gear along with a woollen scarf and a greatcoat draped over his shoulders.

The stone surround features two stylised reliefs of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force emblems, a rope and anchor and an eagle in flight.

Placed within the plinth is a sealed casket, manufactured at Swindon Works of the Great Western Railway, housing a vellum roll inscribed with all the 2,524 employees who were killed.

Around 6,000 people. mainly relatives of the Great Western men who fell in the war, assembled to witness the ceremony.

The relatives were brought as the company’s guests, by special and ordinary trains. The Great Western Railway magazine of December 1922 informs that the gathering itself was a moving spectacle, with its thousands of sad and many tear-stained faces, and numberless hands fondly holding bunches of flowers that were to be laid after the ceremony at the foot of the memorial.

During 1921, the Royal Artillery War Commemoration Fund Committee (RAWCFC), formed in 1918 approached Jagger to produce a single memorial to the fallen Royal Artillery servicemen, numbering 49,076.

This would prove to be his most ambitious and well-known war memorial. Architect Lionel Pearson was responsible for the memorial’s stone structure.

Jagger stated boldly that the piece should unashamedly focus on the events of the war and “should in every sense be a war memorial”.

He was strongly against any suggestion that the monument might embody some of the symbolism of peace, adding that all the details of active service would be included.

Jagger was awarded the contract for the work in March 1922 and the costs amounted to £25,000. Measuring 43 feet long, 21 feet wide, and 30 feet high, the piece includes a massive sculpture of a BL 9.2-inch MKI howitzer – one-third oversized – on a large Portland stone plinth.

Reliefs carved in stone depict a number of detailed WWI military scenes. Bronze figures show a driver on the west side, an artillery captain to the east, a shell carrier to the north and a dead soldier on the south.

Jagger argued that the latter piece gave the design “a proper finish”. All the bronze figures were cast by the foundry of AB Burton.

The main inscriptions on the west and east faces read: “In proud remembrance of the 49,000 of all ranks of the Royal Regiment of Artillery who gave their lives for King and Country in the Great War 1914-1919.’

Charles Sargeant Jagger died of pneumonia at his home in Battersea, London on 16 November 1934 - almost 80 years ago.

Towards the end of 2013 it was announced that English Heritage was aiming to list up to 500 war memorials a year over the First World War centenary period of 2014-18.

The Secretary of State for Culture and Sport Maria Miller said: “This centenary comes at a point where living memory becomes written history, so it is absolutely right that our work to mark it speaks clearly to young people in particular.

“War memorials are a precious part of our heritage that keeps alive the ultimate sacrifice that so many made. It is absolutely right that we cherish and protect them.”