CONTRARY to urban myth, the War Memorial statues in The Diamond were not rejects from a trial run for a set of statues in Sheffield - they were actually specifically designed and sculpted for the City by Vernon March.
Our unique memorial was unveiled on June 23, 1927, by Major-General FF Ready, who was the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland and the event was watched by a large number of veterans and bereaved relatives of WW1.
Although we all pass it on a regular basis, few may realise there are 755 men and one woman commemorated on the memorial, and records now show that over 1,150 people with links to the City died in the Great War.
“Shortly after the end of the Great War a committee was formed under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Anderson to raise funds to erect a memorial to those from Londonderry who had died in the war,” said local historian Ian Bartlett.
By 1920 over £5,000 was raised, but it was not until June 1923 that a committee was assembled for the project, with Capt James Wilton, MC, a veteran of the War, appointed as Secretary.
“Contacts were made with other war memorial committees in Great Britain for information on possible sculptors and designs and in April 1925 it was decided to award the contract to the sculptor Vernon March who along with his six brothers and his sister, had a foundry in Farnborough, Kent,” said Ian,
According to the paperwork available, the fee was £5,000 and March was tasked to erect a monument 38 feet and six inches in height, which consisted of the winged figure ‘Victory’ in bronze, flanked by a soldier and a sailor also in bronze, with four bronze panels carrying the names of The Fallen.
Models of the proposed figures for the monument are now housed within St Columb’s Cathedral, Where Ian works, and if you scrutinise them closely you will see the sailor in the model has shoes on his feet, while the actual statue is barefoot. The legend across the capband on the statue reads ‘HMS Derry’. Nothing appears on the model.
Casting the statues was completed in October 1926 but plans to have the monument finished by Armistice Day that year failed and it was not until June 23, 1927 that the unveiling took place. Due to the absence through illness of Sir Robert Anderson, the unveiling was chaired by Lady Anderson, who noted the dead were “brave and noble ones came from all creeds and classes, so that every citizen can join with us today when we proudly commemorate their glorious deeds.”