An end to hatred and injustice: 
   Colchester's War Memorial 
                                  Sue McPherson © 2001
Next to the entrance to Colchester's Castle Park stands the Cenotaph - originally a memorial to those who fought in WW I on behalf of the British Empire and its Allies, and to all those who died.  London architect S. D. Adshead wrote in a paper on monuments that "the nobility of a war monument depends upon the depth of the imagination displayed in its rendering, and to be absolutely sublime it must be symbolic.  The modern war god must symbolise his country's power, and the art which memorialises him must rise to symbolic representation" (Hunt, 1923: 24).  Here, I would like to consider the significance of the monument and its relevance for us all today and for the years to come.
Prime Minister Lloyd George, speaking in London in 1922, declared that "there must be peace in the world.  Britain, who put her might into the fighting and the struggle (of WW I), will henceforth put all her great might to establish peace on earth and goodwill amongst men" (George, in Hunt, 1923: 15). And that is why, wrote Edgar Hunt, one of the statues on the Monument is the "beautiful figure of Peace and why the words -

They strove for Peace,
They served for Freedom
They died to live,

are inscribed on the front panel" (Hunt 1923: 15).

In 1919 the Monument Scheme Sub-committee of Colchester had set about selecting a model for their war memorial, and after much deliberation unanimously selected sculptor Henry C. Fehr's design, one of many displayed in the Royal Academy's Exhibition, for the Colchester War Memorial Monument.  The completed Memorial, with a total height of 28 feet 6 inches, has been described in the souvenir book edited by Edgar Hunt, Chairman of the Monument Committee (pp. 25-26).  In all, the components of the memorial, in stone and bronze, include the steps, the pedestal, the casket inside it, two panels, and three statues, although my particular interest, in this article, is the winged figure at the top of the cenotaph.

The two figures on either side of the pedestal, each seven feet high, are said to represent St. George and Peace.  
St. George is a symbol of Manhood and of chivalry and courage, and is the Patron Saint of England, and of the Scouts.  The figure of the woman represents Peace - the reason the war was fought, and what the aim for the future then became.  The figure of Peace also represents the Womanhood of England, and was intended to "remind us of all the splendid work done by the women of England in general and Colchester in particular" (Hunt, p. 25).

The third figure, poised above the pedestal, is the Winged Statue of Victory. (See also, photo taken during Peace march in 2001). She is a figure of "exquisite beauty," as Hunt describes, standing eleven feet high.  The sword, held in her right hand in a downpointing position, he claims represents "The Cross of Sacrifice" and "The Sword of Devotion" (Hunt p. 25).  In her outstretched left hand she holds a laurel wreath.  Religious symbolism of sacrifice is often connected with war memorials; there are, however, other meanings suggested by the downpointing sword that, although tied to Christianity, come from the world of mythology.  

The significance of the sword being held in a downpointing position rather than pointing upward is related to the notions of justice and violence.  It may be associated, in mythology, with divine connection between the ruler of a land and God, and the acceptance of this ideal ruler by the people, as described by Elizabeth von Hagenow (2001); thus there would apparently be no need to brandish the sword of justice.  Another image of the sword and the laurel wreath is presented by one of the Haymarket Trial Monuments of Illinois (Rivers, Jameson and Bates, 2001), which "depicts Justice preparing to draw a sword while placing a laurel wreath on the brow of a fallen worker".  The laurel wreath in this instance seems to represent peace, although in Hagenow's example, the laurel wreath is a crown for the divine emperor.  It is interesting, too, to note the relation between both these images of the laurel wreath and the crucifixion of Jesus, who was both human and the son of God.  As the depictions of Hagenow and Rivers et al indicate, there could be more than one way of interpreting the significance of the winged figure on Colchester's cenotaph, although in whatever way it is interpreted it would seem that the themes of justice and the end of violence (peace) are part of them.  

When I began exploring the significance of this winged figure I first thought that it must represent an angel but I am not sure now that it does.  The figure is of a woman with wings, but it may be related to an allegorical figure by the name of Gloria Victis, or to the Greek goddess, Pietsa.  The sculptor himself, Henry Fehr, was known to use allegorical figures in his work, his best known piece being "The Rescue of Andromeda," (Perseus and Andromeda), which stands on the west balcony of the Tate Gallery.  There are many references to the sword and the laurel wreath in mythology, and to the winged female figure, and I have only touched on them here.

The phrase "No justice, no peace" has been used in connection with the events of September 11 in New York.  Henry Fehr's first model of the monument was accompanied by the motto, "No Cross, No Crown (Hunt, p. 26) appropriate for that time in history.  But mottoes can sometimes lose their significance, or they may be interpreted differently over time.  In a global sense, the notions of justice and peace have a wider relevance than the Christian interpretation alone, and justice is often seen in terms of social justice.  In addition, the male and female figures of St. George and the statue of Peace, according to Edgar Hunt representing traditional gender roles of the man as warrior or knight and the woman as peace-keeper, might need to be rethought considering women's place in the military today, and men's in the peace movement. 

In 1922 a ceremony was held in Colchester, at which a casket was deposited in the pedestal of the monument.  This would be the first of a series of ceremonies in connection with the War Memorial.  Everything about this monument made use of the best resources available - the planning committee, the sculptor, the stone and bronze and those who transformed the material, the site for the monument, the items for the casket, and probably others, in many more ways.  The Monument was meant to fulfil more than one purpose.  It was a tribute to those who fought and lived, and to those who died, and a way to provide solace to grieving friends and loved ones.  Described by Hunt as "emblematical, symbolical - a harmonious whole - a thing of beauty," it was also meant to be "a great example and inspiration to future generations of Colcestrians for all time" (Hunt, p. 26).

Our own history suggests that wars are never going to be won for the last time, but that conflict is part of the world in which we live.  We need to reconsider the aims of war and how battles are fought, how conflict might be avoided and resolution achieved, and the changing significance of the Colchester War Memorial.


Hunt, Edgar A. (Ed.)
1923  The Colchester War Memorial Souvenir. Colchester: Essex Telegraph Ltd.

Rivers, Jesse, Tamara Jameson and Vincent Bates
2001  "The Haymarket Affair 1886".  Famous American Trials  University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School. Web site of Professor Doug Linder.  Retrieved Aug 14, 2001.

von Hagenow, Elizabeth
2001  "The Royal Portrait with allegorical commentary". Exhibitions: 1648 - War and Peace in Europe.  Essay Volume II: Art and Culture.  Retrieved September 28, 2001.

Remembrance Day 2001
Colchester Cenotaph 
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