On this day, 23 June 1919, a memorial to eighteen London school children killed during a German Gotha raid during WWI was unveiled in Poplar Recreation Ground, London E14.
Such memorials are each unique pieces of public art which link the present and the past and form part of our common history and belong to our collective memory.
I came across this striking memorial as I was walking along the East India Dock Road in London’s East End. The angel statue stands on top of a four-sided pillar upon a white stone stepped base. The inscription reads:
IN MEMORY OF 18 CHILDREN WHO WERE KILLED BY A BOMB DROPPED FROM A GERMAN AEROPLANE UPON THE LCC SCHOOL-UPPER NORTH STREET POPLAR ON THE 13TH JUNE 1917
The date of the tragedy also marks the first day of German aircraft daylight bombing raids on London during WWI. Prior to this, most air raids had taken place under cover of darkness. Poplar was near the commercial docks – a frequent target during enemy air raids in both world wars – and Upper North Street school may not have been the intended target when Gotha airplanes dropped their bombs on that day, but the school suffered a devastating direct hit.
Most of the dead were infants, aged between four and six. It caused a huge international outpouring of public grief and sorrow as well as outrage and outcry, inciting widespread rioting against German owned shops and premises in Britain. It prompted questions in the House of Commons about the pressing need for a more effective air raid early warning system.
Before the 1914-1918 war, most war memorials were of famous generals who won celebrated victories in battle. After the slaughter in the trenches and deaths from air raids on the Home Front, there was a change in public mood and this change is reflected in the many and varied public memorials commissioned in its aftermath. These are visible in our cities, in town squares, on village greens, in local churchyards, in parks, at railway stations and in the designs on church windows. They speak to us of commemoration and sacrifice – of civilians as well as service personnel – not celebration.
Above all, they allow us and future generations to remember. And hope for peace. Always.
What about you? Are there war memorials in your home town? How do you feel about them?
WWI Centenary. Lest We Forget
Photographs © Susan Hughes