24th Infantry Division War Memorial
The 24th Division war memorial stands in the beautiful surroundings of Battersea Park at the junction of Central Avenue and East Carriage Drive. It was designed by Eric Kennington, one of the most gifted and thought-provoking artists in Britain in the first half of the Twentieth century. The Portland stone monument is of three helmeted soldiers in World War 1 uniforms with a serpent of war entwined through their legs and feet. Each figure has an astonishing degree of military detail including badges of rank, service stripes, wound stripes and skill at arms badges; one of them is wearing shorts. On the plinth are the embossed cap badges of the component units of the Division – many now lost through disbandment and amalgamation.
In 1914, like so many others, Kennington responded to Field Marshal Kitchener’s call to enlist in the army and he volunteered to serve as a private in the 13th Battalion of the London Regiment (usually known as the Kensingtons). Kennington served with them for three months in the trenches of the Western Front. After an accident where he shot himself in the foot (while cleaning a friend’s rifle) he was invalided back to England. During his time in the trenches Kennington experienced front line duties during the bitterly cold first winter of the war. These experiences were at the root of his inspiration and after months of convalescence, he started his war-inspired work as a tribute to his former comrades.
The artist’s first post-convalescence work was a painting, The Kensingtons at Laventie: winter 1914, which is part of the Imperial War Museum collection. The painting was much admired and helped Kennington obtain an official position at the Department of Information as an Official War Artist in France in August 1917 to draw portraits of soldiers. It was there that he found two men from the ranks who would later become his models for the 24th Infantry Division memorial.
The idea for the memorial originated from Lieutenant Colonel M Hill, Commanding the 9th Royal Sussex with whom Kennington had worked. The Battalion was part of the 24th Infantry Division which was disbanded in 1919. Kennington was asked to recommend a sculptor to commemorate the Division’s 10,865 war dead. He immediately volunteered himself refusing to take any payment for the work. The left figure is based on Trooper Morris Clifford Thomas of the Machine Gun Corps, the central figure on Sergeant J Woods of the 9th Royal Sussex and the right figure on Robert Graves (the poet and writer) who served as a captain with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
The memorial was unveiled during a Service of Dedication on 4th October 1922 by Field Marshal Lord Plumer of Messines and the Bishop of Southwark. At the time Kennington remarked that “all three men have boundless strength, courage and resolve and their progress is unimpeded by the common danger at their feet – the enemies which they overcome are not so much German soldiers as the internal enemies of us all.”