The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man
This Armistice Day when I visited the memorial, I could not recall it ever looking so handsome. The sparkling light of a bright sunny summer’s day in Durban was unsurpassing, and the detail on the memorial was picked out in the finest detail.
After thoughtfully placing a bunch of white lilies on the breast of the bronze soldier who lies supine upon a stone altar, I stood back and reflected on all the young Durban men and boys who never came back to feel the warm African sunshine on their faces. Can one love a memorial? Well I love this structure. Some have criticised the memorial as being too bright, too gay for what should be a solemn memorial. I totally disagree – for the memorial is more than appropriate for the vibrant subtropical city that is Durban. Its brightness and colourfulness is almost cheering – and who said memorials can only be grim. On a crystal-bright Durban day – even a granite gravestone sparkles.
Rising up into the blue sky, this stone and ceramic Art Deco edifice is graced by two large winged angels in white and lapis lazuli, who between them support the soul of the dead soldier upwards towards heaven which is symbolised by a blue starry sky and a yellow radiating sun where a the white dove of the Holy Spirit awaits.
The memorial was designed by H. L. G. Pilkington and modelled by Harold Stabler and completed in 1925. The della-robbia sculpture measures over 21 feet tall and 14 tons of clay were used in the modelling. Once fashioned it took 4 months to dry before the tiles could be fired. Evidently, the figure of the soul was modeled on that of one of the Poole Pottery’s employees.
I found these two tiny plants growing in the inhospitable corner of the grey granite stones of the Great War Memorial. To me they symbolise the belief that ‘hope springeth anew’.
(above and below) I photographed the seldom seen rear side of the memorial. A lion-headed spout once poured water into a stone basin.
(above and below) The Delville Wood Memorial inside the walls of the memorial.
A photograph of the Sculptor Percy Metcalfe in his studio at Barnes, London, May 1928. Metcalfe was commissioned to sculpt the two Art Deco-styled lions that flank the entrance to the memorial and the Fallen Soldier. The lions symbolise the spirit of courage displayed by the men of Durban who fought in the 1st World War.
(Below) A photograph of one of Metcalfe’s lions taken 85 years after they were made.