Construction and Dedication of the WW2 Memorial
UK and Commonwealth Merchant Navy losses in World War 2 were very heavy indeed - to a great extent due to sinkings by German U-boats and mines. I am not sure that there is a definitive total but over 24,000 had been lost at sea. It was decided to commemorate them with a memorial and it was fitting to locate it in Trinity Square Gardens close to that constructed to commemorate similar losses in WW1. In addition to members of the Merchant Navy, the memorial includes those lost from Fishing Fleets and United Kingdom Lighthouse and Pilotage Services.
This page is about the construction and dedication of the memorial. To go directly to photos and details of casualties recorded on the memorial please click HERE.
The memorial was designed by Sir Edward Brantwood Maufe (1883-1974) whose other works include the design of the Commonwealth Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede and Guildford Cathedral.
The cutting below from the Birmingham Daily Gazette 18 January 1952 comments on the design of the memorial and mentions ... a fountain will play in the middle of the gardens ... Either this part of the design was scrapped before building or the fountain was later removed.
The proposed design was submitted and on 18 February 1952, The Times newspaper announced that the design had been approved. Note that the organisation that would become the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was known as the Imperial War Graves Commission at that time.
On 9 Feb 1954 the Birmingham Post announced that work was about to start on the Memorial.
A dedication panel was erected between the two main entrances to the memorial and between Charles Wheeler's sculptures representing Officers and Men.
Sculptures by Charles Wheeler
In addition to the sculptures representing Officers and Men, the memorial is interspersed with representations of the seven seas and decorated ornaments.
The photos below give a feeling for the magnificent location of the Tower Hill memorials:
On 1 Mar 1955 The Times announced the date of the unveiling of the memorial.
On 1 May 1955 The Evening News described how invitations to the unveiling ceremony would be sent out to the next of kin of those commemorated on the Memorial.
On 16 Jul 1955 the Illustrated London News reported that work on the memorial was well advanced and printed an image showing this. The position of what was perhaps to be come the fountain is clear in the centre of the gardens.
On 15 October The Sphere had a full-page article reporting that the construction was almost complete and the bronze panels were being put in place.
The memorial was unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 5 November 1955.
The ceremony was also televised. Although there were relatively few people with televisions at the time, there had been an upsurge in ownership as a result of the Coronation in 1953.
Attendance was by invitation only. One of the attendees was the widow of John Baxter who had lost his life on Empire Surf. I am grateful to her relatives for providing these images of the front and back of the invitation card
The Shields Daily News carried a report of the ceremony on 7 Nov 1955. It includes a touching description of the relatives of those commemorated coming up to the memorial to lay flowers, wreaths etc. It must have been a gruelling experience for them but hopefully they got some small comfort from seeing their loved ones commemorated.
The Arbroath Herald reported on the ceremony on 11 Nov 1955 and gave a fuller account of the speech by The Queen and information about local people who had attended the ceremony.
On 12 November the Illustrated London News included this bird's eye view of the ceremony in full swing.
On the same day The Sphere published the same photograph as that in the Illustrated London News. The caption resolves the mystery of the 'missing' fountain at the centre of the site by stating that the centre is a silver and bronze mariner's compass. A decision to make this change must have been made at some point before construction started.