The Cenotaph at night

Dave Godden

Maidstone, United Kingdom

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Artist's Description

The Cenotaph at Whitehall in London, UK at night in November still surrounded by the Wreaths of Remembrance laid a fortnight before.

It was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who conceived the idea from the name of a structure (“Cenotaph of Sigismunda”) in Gertrude Jekyll’s garden, and constructed from Portland stone between 1919 and 1920 by Holland, Hannen & Cubitts. It replaced Lutyens’s identical wood-and-plaster cenotaph erected in 1919 for the Allied Victory Parade commissioned by David Lloyd George, and is a Grade I listed building. It is undecorated save for a carved wreath on each end and the words “The Glorious Dead”, chosen by Rudyard Kipling. It commemorates specifically the victims of the First World War, but is used to commemorate all of the dead in all wars in which British servicemen have fought. The design was used in the construction of many other war memorials throughout the British Empire.

The sides of the Cenotaph are not parallel, but if extended would meet at a point some 300 metres (980 ft) above the ground. Similarly, the “horizontal” surfaces are in fact sections of a sphere whose centre would be 900 feet (270 m) below ground.

It is flanked on each side by various flags of the United Kingdom which Lutyens had wanted to be carved in stone. Although Lutyens was overruled and cloth flags were used, his later Rochdale cenotaph has stone flags. In the years following 1919, the Cenotaph displayed a Union Flag, a White Ensign, and a Red Ensign on one side and a Union Flag, a White Ensign, and a Blue Ensign on the other side. On 1 April 1943, an RAF Ensign was substituted for the White Ensign on the west side of the monument. The flags displayed as of 2007 represent the Royal Navy, the British Army, the Royal Air Force, and the Merchant Navy.

The Cenotaph is the site of the annual National Service of Remembrance held at 11:00 a.m. on Remembrance Sunday, the closest Sunday to 11 November (Armistice Day).

Uniformed service personnel (excluding fire and ambulance personnel) always salute the Cenotaph as they pass. It was, for example, very noticeably the only salute made by the Royal Horse Artillery driver of Diana, Princess of Wales’s funeral carriage during that procession; on that occasion he did not even salute the Queen.

Artwork Comments

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