Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Coming Home in Triumph in 1918?

 As I have traveled over the years it has become apparent that almost every community in the “western” world has its collection of memorials to those who participated in the conflicts that marked its history. Memorials relating to the American Civil War appear to be the most numerous in the United States, but I believe that in the United Kingdom that position is claimed by the First World War. One of the discoveries I made in researching for this blog is that Britain's Imperial War Museum maintains an outstanding online database of war memorials.

Many of these British First World War memorials are rather austere and even plain cenotaphs or obelisks, etc., reflecting to some degree or another the grief associated with the scale of the losses from the Great War. When they do feature something more, it is often a mournful figure draped in ancient robes or a soldier marked by his stillness and lack of movement or evident energy. The Northumberland Fusiliers monument is an interesting exception in that it features a group of soldiers leaving for the war and surrounded by family, friends, and well-wishers.

But this memorial in Cambridge is the only British memorial that I can recall as presenting any hint or note of triumph. Entitled “The Homecoming”, it was originally It was originally unveiled and dedicated on July 3, 1923 by His Royal Highness the Duke of York - the future King George VI.

Today it is located at the intersection of Hills Road and Station Road (and the Botanical Gardens there) – the latter leading to the railway station that serves the city of Cambridge, the location to which it was moved in 2012.

The memorial includes a single soldier from the ranks, representing the many men of Cambridgeshire who went off to the war. This figure, however, is striding boldly possibly even gleefully homeward from the wars. The Imperial War Museum's database offers some background information on this memorial.

The memorial was dedicated
AND IN THE WORLD WAR/ 1939-1945"

- the reference to the Second World War of course being a later addition.

He bears laurel garlands of triumph in his kit and wreathed around the German stahlhelm that is his trophy from the battlefield and signet of victory.

The statue bears the name of its sculptor the names of the memorials sponsors are inscribed on the base. Robert Tait McKenzie was a Canadian American surgeon and sculptor whose interest in the latter reflects and may have been inspired in part by his interest in anatomy and physical fitness. His papers today are now at the University of Pennsylvania.

A very similar (apparently identical) work in the United States is called "The Victor" and was erected in 1925 as a part of the War Memorialin Woodbury, New Jersey. The similarities to “The Homecoming” are evident as are the changes to make this figure a World War I doughboy facing straight ahead as he marches. Personally, I prefer the English version as the soldier’s posture looking to one side from his line of march is much more evocative of the already easing of discipline and the anticipated return to the hard earned joys of peace this soldier would have felt. A Philadelphia Buildings website also presents drawings and other background material on "The Victor" including drawings of how it would look while still merely a proposal. These drawings show how it was already planned for this figure to be different than the one used in "The Homecoming" in Cambridge.

The figure of the British soldier in "The Homecoming" also offers some great details on what his kit would have looked like and how it would have been worn.