30 August 2017

The Abuja Memorial - then and now

The Commission’s commitment across Africa bears witness to the ferocity of fighting that took place here. In Nigeria alone, the CWGC commemorates almost 4,800 Commonwealth servicemen of the two world wars at 40 cemeteries, memorials and individual graves. In February last year, the Commission completed a project to restore a memorial in Nigeria to more than 2,000 African servicemen who died in both world wars.

 

On Thursday, a dedication service will be held for the new Abuja Memorial, within the National Military Cemetery in Nigeria. The service hosted by the British High Commission will be attended by Nigerian and British representatives. Ahead of the service, we look at the memorial’s history and the construction of the new monument.

The history

Originally erected in Lagos by the Imperial War Graves Commission in 1932, the memorial was built to honour almost 1,000 Africans who died in the First World War. It bore no names but was topped by two magnificent bronze statues – sculpted by James Alexander Stevenson under the pseudonym ‘Myrander’, and cast in 1931 by the London foundry Morris-Singer – they represent a Hausa soldier of the Nigeria Regiment and an Igbo carrier of the Nigeria Carrier Corps.

 

In 1962 a Second World War memorial, formed of 10 bronze name panels, was built alongside the existing structure. It was inscribed with the names of 1,158 servicemen of the Second World War who enlisted in Nigeria and died in West Africa, and whose graves were unknown or could not be maintained. The combined memorials formed part of a ‘Square of Remembrance' in the centre of Lagos – the centrepiece of which was the tomb of the ‘unknown soldier’.

The new memorial

Following a decision by the Nigerian Government to build a national memorial in the new state capital of Abuja, it was thought the original bronze panels and statues may have been lost. However, through the repeated efforts of the British High Commission, CWGC staff and the Nigerian authorities, they were found – enabling the Commission’s architect, Barry Edwards, to design a new memorial that would, for the first time, incorporate the names of casualties of both world wars.

In October 2015, the foundations for the memorial were dug. This was swiftly followed by the remaining materials for the memorial’s main structure – 60 tonnes of granite and 10 tonnes of other materials and equipment, shipped by sea into Lagos and transported to the new site.

 

At the same time, eight new bronze name panels were under manufacture in Australia – to commemorate those previously unnamed casualties – while the original Second World War bronze panels and statues were refurbished. The re-bronzing restored the statues to their former glory before they were lifted back into place atop the new memorial – a fitting tribute to more than 2,000 men named on the memorial’s walls.