THE satirist and artist Max Beerbohm said in 1899: ‘I should make very short work of any Victorian statues I saw standing about. There are many of them. There is no escape from them . . . If England, in her old age, is beginning to lose her memory and cannot, without some system of mnemonics, remember the names of her great sons, she had better make up her mind to forget them at once.’
It’s somewhat ironic that a blue plaque marks where he was born at 57 Palace Gardens Terrace, Kensington. Perhaps he should not have been quite so scathing. Could he have imagined such a determined effort to erase our national memory as now? Or the real need to protect this ‘system of mnemonics’.
It is surely right too, as G K Chesterton later stated, ‘that men who have played a high and often heroic part in our history should be commemorated, in story or in statuary, whatever be the fate of the cause for which they contended’ (Collected Works of G K Chesterton, Volume 32).
Heroism comes in different forms. The battle for ideas can be a fearsome as the field of war and the battle fought for freedom is central to our heritage. As the need to protect, preserve and understand our history grows more urgent, we asked readers to nominate in up to 500 words any men and women who, as past or present champions of liberty, deserve to be celebrated in stone to ensure their remembrance.
Considered submissions arrived for Edmund Burke, John Wesley, Sir Keith Joseph and Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart and, starting tomorrow, we will publish these essays over the rest of this week.
Several shorter nominations deserve mention (for the ironic ones you must go back to the comments on the original article) and are listed here with their accompanying comments:
Douglas Murray: ‘The 500 word note on why will simply be. He’s Douglas Murray repeated 166 times with the last 2 words being, Enough Said.’
Sir Henry Royce: ‘He has a modest statue in the market place in Derby but he should be on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square and/or on the cliffs at Dover. The Merlin engine. Apparently there will always be one craftsman at Derby who can build one and he/she will always have an apprentice.’
Dame Vera Lynn: ‘May I suggest replacing the statue of Gandhi with one of that great and revered English lady, Dame Vera Lynn? She was courageous, travelling thousands of miles during WW2 to entertain the troops in Burma thus boosting their morale which was at a low ebb, and she was loved for that as well as her wonderful voice and memorable songs.’
Joseph Denman: ‘How about a huge statue of abolitionist and tirelessly determined anti-slave trade fighter Admiral Joseph Denman aboard HMS Wanderer in the middle of College Green, Bristol?’
Lt Col A D Wintle: ‘To anyone wearied by the lockdown and recent events, I recommend a read of his Wikipedia entry followed by a listen to his appearance on Desert Island Discs, available on the BBC website. A TV drama was made about him a few years ago and it began with the Desert Island Discs appearance, but when I tried to watch it Jim Broadbent’s caricature of him as a thick-headed Blimp was so unlike the real man I had just listened to, I had to switch it off.’
Robert Laurence Nairac GC: ‘For when Heroes surpass Heroism. RIP Captain Nairac.’
St Augustine of Canterbury: ‘Apostle to the Anglo-Saxons. He came when England was a remote, pagan, forbidding place that had slipped off the map of civilisation. Many of his monks were worried they’d all be killed as soon as they reached us. But he did a very good job. This land may yet need his like again!’
Bradley J Plunkett: ‘Without doubt, Bradley J Plunkett. The inventor of the wah-wah pedal.’
Sir Roger Scruton: ‘A great intellect and a wonderful man.’
Anne Boleyn: ‘She made us Protestant instead of some ghastly papist backwater. Also she seemed like an intelligent (if somewhat calculating) woman. Far too much for Henry who seemed to like pretty simpletons. Her impact on the UK is vast and imagine the dilemma it would give the modern Left. One the one hand, white and from the upper classes of the time, even before becoming queen, so bad. On the other hand, a genuine victim of male oppression and someone falsely accused and convicted, so a genuine victim of the patriarchy. They’d tie themselves in knots.’
Sapper William Hackett VC: ‘For his own deliberate and slow self-sacrifice there are no words. I have no words.’