Signs and Symbols: The Troops’ Memorial
The cenotaph outside the main entrance to The Royal Exchange is an ongoing reminder to never forget the sacrifices made by many for the lives we enjoy today
In the aftermath of World War I there was a huge public appetite for commemorating the many thousands of men and women who had perished in four years of terrible fighting. In London a new group, the City and County Joint Committee, was created to organise a parade of returned soldiers through the City, which took place in 1919.
The committee then turned its attention to creating a permanent memorial to the fallen of London, funded by banks, the guilds and public subscription. The Lord Mayor lobbied hard and successfully for it to be located outside The Royal Exchange (which involved relocating a fountain and a statue, which they duly did).
The committee selected Sir Aston Webb (1849-1930) – best known for the east façade of Buckingham Palace, the Admiralty Arch, and the façade of the Victoria and Albert Museum facing Cromwell Road – to design the monument. Webb presented the committee with a massive 23 metre (75 ft) high depiction of the figures of Peace and Victory. It was considered out of scale for the location and Webb was politely told to try again. We can see the subsequent effort, formally known as The City and County of London Troops Memorial, outside the main entrance today.
The memorial consists of a Portland stone column with a pair of buttress plinths, standing a more modest 7.5 metres (25 ft) high. On these plinths are life-sized bronze figures of two soldiers at ease, one representing the Royal Fusiliers, the other the Royal Field Artillery. On top is a bronze rampant lion bearing a medallion depicting George and the Dragon.
The front of the main column features the coat of arms of the City of London; the rear has a panel listing all those London regiments that saw combat in WW1 and WW2 – and there were many – and units such as the Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADS – civilian volunteers who worked as auxiliary nurses) and the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, which rarely get their due.
The base has bronze hooks with embossed crossed rifles for holding the wreaths that are laid there every Remembrance Sunday. It was unveiled on 12th November 1920, the day after the ceremony to intern the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey and the unveiling of Edwin Lutyens’ stone Cenotaph in Whitehall.
Officially opened by HRH Queen Elizabeth I in 1571, The Royal Exchange celebrates its 450th anniversary this year. Our Signs and Symbols series, by author and journalist Rob Ryan, explores the design secrets in and around The Royal Exchange’s magnificent façade.
Visit our heritage page to learn more about the history of The Royal Exchange and keep an eye on our 450 Years site, journal and Instagram for more fascinating facts and insights about The Royal Exchange’s past and present as we commemorate this special milestone throughout the year ahead.
We look forward to welcoming you during 2021, for a considered shopping and dining experience in spectacular and historic surroundings. Please visit our boutiques page for regular updates on our retailers’ opening information and hours, as well as details about virtual appointments and click and collect services.