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Plymouth Naval Memorial: the history and design

The monument will be the first memorial to host the Wave. Unveiled by HRH Prince George on the 29 July 1924, the memorial is one of three at manning ports in Great Britain commemorating the tens of thousands of men and women who lost their lives while serving with the Royal Navy in the First and Second World Wars.

The history

During the First World War the CWGC was primarily concerned with the marking and recording of the graves of those soldiers of the British Empire who died on the battlefields in Europe.

After the Armistice of 1918, the Commission began to consider the question of how best to commemorate those who had no known grave.

Of the 44,000 British Empire service personnel of the Royal Navy who died during the First World War, the majority were lost at sea, either in battle or ‘committed to the deep’ in a sea burial, the traditional burial form of the Royal Navy.

Unlike soldiers, memorials to the missing commemorated near where they fell would be untenable for the Royal Navy as the geographic extent would be logistically challenging.

The Naval Memorials Committee was formed to look at the locality, position and form of memorials. They agreed on the three manning ports – Plymouth, Portsmouth and Chatham – and that the memorials, to associate some naval purpose, would act as a beacon into the ports.

The design

The memorial was designed by Sir Robert Lorimer, a Principal Architect for the Commission, with sculpture by Henry Poole. An extension to the memorial was added after the Second World War, designed by Sir Edward Maufe with the additional sculpture by Charles Wheeler and William McMillan. This was unveiled by HRH Princess Margaret on 20 May 1954.

The memorial takes the form of an obelisk, supported on four buttresses on which there are four lions. Each of the lions is holding onto the memorial to symbolise some rigidity and firmness to the monument. Above the lions on each side at the base of the obelisk are deep relief sculptures of the Naval Crown and the Naval wreath.  

At the top of the monument are the prows of four ships with statutes figuratively representing the four winds. While, at the very top of the monument is a coper globe. You may notice a small dent in this globe, caused by a barrage balloon escaping its moorings during an air raid during the Second World War.

At the front of the memorial on the landward side are two statues. One is of Neptune (Poseidon), the other his wife Amphitrite.

Within the Second World War extension are four sculptures – two sailors of the Royal Navy by Charles Wheeler and two further figures of a Royal Marine and a member of the Maritime Regiment of the Royal Artillery by William McMillan, who was also responsible for the statues of Neptune and Amphitrite with sea horses at the memorial’s entrance.

The names on the panels are listed by year and by rank across all the roles and trades of the Royal Navy family. There are 7,251 names from the First World War, and 15,933 names in the extension from the Second World War. There is one recipient of the Victoria Cross on the memorial - Lieut- Commander William Sanders, RNVR, Panel 23.