Tag Archives: Imperial War Museum

By Richard Graham, Office Volunteer

Looking at war memorials, especially in small communities, I am often struck when the same family name recurs. Might they be brothers, or cousins, or even father and son? Local research, aided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, can often provide answers and it is encouraging to see the number of local booklets published in recent years to honour the fallen of their communities.

St Andrews Church, Penrith (IWM 3064 ©Jean Norris, 1998)

St Andrews Church, Penrith (IWM 3064 ©Jean Norris, 1998)

After 14 years volunteering for IWM’s War Memorials Archive (formerly UKNIWM), I am almost convinced there is no war memorial which can correctly be described as unique.

The other day though I was updating the record for the Men of Penrith, in Cumbria and came across thirteen instances where there was a forename followed by ‘and’, and either one or two further names followed by the family surname, eg ‘Ronald and Thomas Richardson.’ covering two lines, but distinguished from the next entry, another Thomas Richardson.

Does anyone know of any other community memorial on which the names of relatives are shown this way?

This article was submitted by UKNIWM volunteer Irene Glausiusz, Chair of the ‘Memorial to Evacuation’ Steering Committee. 


To mark Holocaust Memorial Day, a moving act of remembrance took place on the last Tuesday in January under a cloudless sky beside Southwark Council’s Holocaust Memorial tree in the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park outside the Imperial War Museum. The service was conducted by Rev Alan Greenbat representing the Chief Rabbi’s office and the Rt. Rev. Christopher Chessun Anglican Bishop of Woolwich. The assembled crowd was invited to join in the singing of the 23rd Psalm – forever a source of comfort and solace. Never forgetting all the millions who perished during World War Two, Alan Greenbat quoted a poignant translation of a Hebrew biblical passage “How pleasant it would be if brothers could live together in harmony” (Psalm 133).


Everyone then moved to the nearby Soviet War Memorial where His Excellency Yury Fedotov Ambassador of the Russian Federation recalled how his parents had been military personnel.  He too, and now the 3rd generation, his grandchildren, were growing up in another age of conflict.


On the theme of the 2009 rallying cry of Holocaust Memorial Day ‘Stand Up to Hatred’ the Mayor of Southwark, Councillor Eliza Mann said ‘While we remember those who died in the European Holocaust, we should also think that each day people stereotype, exclude and persecute because of race, religion, disability or sexuality’ and added ‘acts of hatred involve making a choice, but we can choose to resist racism.’


Simon Hughes MP for North Southwark wished that leaders whether nationally or locally – that is all those in power – never abuse their power.  A local issue was youth violence in his constituency – recently a fight led to the stabbing of a 14 year old, just because he came from another school.


Mayor of Southwark, Eliza Mann at the Soviet War Memorial (image courtesy of londonse1 community website)

Mayor of Southwark, Eliza Mann at the Soviet War Memorial

(image courtesy of London SE1 community website)


Wreaths were laid at the Soviet War Memorial by Embassies and Defence Attaches of Commonwealth of Independent State countries, UK military organisations, Royal British Legion and veterans of the Arctic Convoys.  Amongst other organisations laying wreaths were Russian cultural societies, the Marx Memorial Library and the Evacuees’ Reunion Association, whose wreath bore the inscription “REMEMBERING THE CHILDREN OF WORLD WAR TWO”.


Philip Matthews, Chair of the Soviet Memorial Trust Fund, in closing the ceremony added a reminder that the next event at the Soviet War Memorial would be Victory Day marking the 10th Anniversary of the installation of the Soviet War Memorial in the park beside the Imperial War Museum.



As well as being the anniversary of the founding of the Imperial War Museum, today is also an important anniversary for us.  Twenty years ago today, the then Director General of the Imperial War Museum, Dr Alan Borg, wrote a letter responding to an article in The Times.  The article had pointed out that church sculpture was at risk from vandalism and other threats.  The chairman of the Friends of Brompton Cemetery had then suggested the establishment of a national inventory of funerary monuments.

Dr Borg, responded with the following letter, published on 5 March 1988.

Sir, Mr Bendixson’s plea (February 24) for a national inventory of funerary monuments deserves wide support but there is, I suggest, an even more urgent national requirement for an Inventory of war memorials. Every town and virtually every village in the country has at least one memorial to those who have died in the conflicts of the 20th century.

These memorials were erected by the state by local communities, by companies, by schools, by individuals and by other bodies. They are in the care of a similarly diverse range of authorities. Most are well looked after but many are suffering from the ravages of time and pollution, with inscriptions becoming illegible and details of sculpture destroyed.

Somewhat surprisingly, there is no inventory of war memorials and hence no way of telling how many require restoration or are in danger of destruction. Various bodies hold partial records, notably the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, and this museum. However, such records relate to only a small percentage of extant memorials and I have long believed that a national database should be established.

The task is finite, manageable and (comparatively) inexpensive; unfortunately, however, it is no one’s responsibility and hence virtually impossible to fund from established sources. Yet if we, after more than 40 years of peace in Europe, allow even a part of our heritage of war memorials to be lost through neglect, we shall rightly be censured by future generations.

Yours faithfully,

Alan Borg,
Director, Imperial War Museum,

Dr Borg’s letter clearly struck a chord with The Times readers, for a dozen responses were published over the next two months. Among them was one from Derek Boorman, later to become the author of books about war memorials, and another pointing out that there are war memorials such as hospitals that are not sculpted.

Following this enthusiastic response, a meeting of interested organisations was held in June and the UKNIWM was founded as a joint project by the Imperial War Museum and the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England.  The following year, 1989, the project appointed its first Project Coordinator and work began to record every war memorial in the UK.

Dr Alan Borg recently retired as chairman of the UKNIWM charitable company.  He must surely be proud of what his letter to The Times twenty years ago initiated.

Today is the anniversary of the founding of the Imperial War Museum, 91 years ago today.  When the museum was founded, the end of the First World War was still over a year away.

From just 15 staff and no permanent premises, the Museum now occupies five sites, attracting over a million visitors annually and employing 650 staff.  The Imperial War Museum funds the work of the UKNIWM and we are based at one of its London sites, a short walk from the main museum in Lambeth.

A general view of a gallery full of models, drawings and photographs held at the Imperial War Museum, in South Kensington, 11 November - 11 December 1925.This photo shows one of the galleries in 1925, when the museum was based in South Kensington.  The room contains models, drawings and photographs and you can see some models of war memorials in the bottom left corner.

The museum moved to its present location, in the old Bethlem Hospital in Lambeth in 1936.

Click here to read more about the Imperial War Museum

Daniel Radcliffe and David Haig, John and Rudyard in My Boy JackOpening this month at Imperial War Museum, London, is the first exhibition to tell the full story of Rudyard Kipling’s only son, John, who was reported missing in action at the age of 18 in the Battle of Loos in 1915.  Rarely seen items from the Imperial War Museum’s archives will be on display, including John’s last letter to his family. The exhibition coincides with a new ITV1 drama, My Boy Jack, which stars Daniel Radcliffe as John.

John Kipling, a Lieutenant in the Irish Guards, is named on Wellington College Roll of Honour.  John’s body was never recovered in Rudyard’s lifetime, but in 1992 the Commonwealth War Graves Commission reported that it had located John’s burial place (see CWGC record).  However, there remains controversy over whether this identification is correct and if the officer buried there is, in fact, Jack.

Several verses written by John’s father, Rudyard, were used as inscriptions on war memorials.  This includes the well-known phrase, ‘Lest we forget’, popularised by Kipling in his poem, Recessional.  Written originally for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897, it came to be used on a great many memorials after the First World War.  We current list 649 memorials on our database that include it. 

11 November is Remembrance Sunday and staff from the UK National Inventory of War Memorials will be at three different branches of the Imperial War Museum, answering questions about war memorials, remembrance and tracing military family history.

Each branch will also hold an armistice memorial ceremony at 11am.

You can see us at the following branches

  • Sunday 11th November at IWM Duxford  Read more
  • Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th at IWM North, Manchester, Read more 
  • Sunday 11th at IWM London, Lambeth Read more

Most of the larger memorials and sculptures you see will have begun life as a maquette, or scale model.  This enables the architect or artist to refine their ideas and others, such as funders or memorial committees, to approve the design before construction begins on the full-scale memorial. 

Maquettes can also be used to increase awareness and inspire people when seeking to raise funds to pay for the construction of a new memorial.

Maquette of the Cenotaph, IWM Sometimes these maquettes survive and they can be very interesting objects in their own right.  On display at Imperial War Museum, London, is Lutyens’ original scale model for the Cenotaph.  The model is constructed from wood, painted plasticine and tin foil.

At Portsmouth City Museum you can see a half-sized maquette of one of the gunners from the City of Portsmouth memorial by the sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger.


Along with colleagues from the Imperial War Museum, we’ll be manning a stall at the National Family History Fair at Gateshead International Stadium this Saturday, 8 September. 

We always enjoy getting out and about talking to people interested in war memorials and discussing how information, both on memorials and in our archive, can help with family history research.

Read more about the National Family History Fair

Polish film season - First to FightThroughout September and early October Imperial War Museum, London will be showing a special programme of rarely seen Polish features and documentaries, together with a selection of material from the museum’s film archive. The programme looks at the story of Eastern Europe from the outbreak of the Second World War, through the Stalinist years to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the eventual transition to democracy.

Read more about Polish Paths to Freedom: First to Fight 

A large number of Polish service personnel were stationed in the UK following the Nazi occupation of Poland and this has led to the erection of many memorials to the Polish war effort.  A search of our database for Second World War with the keyword ‘Polish‘ turns up 69 memorials.

They commemorate both the sacrifice made by the Polish and the assistance they received from local people. The memorial inscriptions are often in both English and Polish.

A rather unusual memorial from Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway, commemorates one particular aspect of the assistance provided by local people.

This is to commemorate the deep/ gratitude of the Polish Officers/ to the Rector and staff of/ Moffat Academy, Ministers/ and other persons here named:/ (NAMES)/ who during the months of Sept. and/ Oct. 1940 have not spared them/ selves in their valuable and/ voluntary work of teaching/ the English language./ (SIGNATURES)

This plaque from Fladingworth, Lincolnshire sums up the sentiment expressed on many other memorials.  

Polskie sily powietrzne / In remembrance of the many men and / women of the Polish Air Force who served at / Faldingworth Aerodrome from / 1944 to 1947 / Their sacrifice and endeavour in the cause of / freedom forms a bond between our two / countries that will always be recalled with / honour and with pride / Polska – Wielka Brytania / Za Nasza I Wasza Wolnosc

One of the more unusual war memorials at the Imperial War Museum is this London General omnibus, known as ‘Ole Bill’.  Ole Bill was used during the First World War to transport troops on the Western Front.  It returned to commerical use after the war, but was later retired and became a permanent memorial to the role played by London buses in the First World War.

Ole Bill. Copyright IWM

This photograph from Armistice Day, 1926, shows the bus outside the Imperial War Museum in South Kensington, where the museum was located at the time.  Ole Bill joined the museum collections in 1970.