The Phantom Finally Remembers.

Pah. Guidebooks. Now I know I have a hell of a lot of them,and some of them are quite old but for some reason I thought that one that wasn’t even as old as the millennium would still be reasonably up to date. I spent a considerable amount of time wandering round the car park of the Old Royal Naval College looking for this baby, finally convincing myself that my map reading really was just crap.

I’m not quite sure how I got the tip-off that Sir Edwin Lutyens’s memorial to the Royal Naval Division had been moved back to its original home in Horse Guards Parade Ground, but I wasn’t going to rest easy until I’d seen it.

Of course it wasn’t going to be that easy – of all the times I could have gone there, I had to pick half-past eleven on a Saturday morning. I could see my quarry – I just couldn’t get to it. My view was this:

What I wanted to get at was the white obelisk right in the centre of the picture and, short of The Queen’s Official Birthday, I couldn’t have picked a worse time. So while this lot pomped away to the delight of hundreds of foreign tourists, I snuck around the back to get a closer look at the funny white needle-in-a-bowl.

Like all of Lutyens’s work there is a simplicity about it that is eloquent – a basic obelisk in an unadorned basin on a plinth, leaving the words of Rupert Brooke to speak for it.

Blow out your bugles over the rich dead

There’s none of these so lonely and poor of old

But dying has made us rarer gifts than gold

Apparently, according to an old drawing, it was supposed to be a fountain – the plinth actually has a lower basin to catch water so that the little faces at the base of the obelisk spat water into the bowl which overflowed into the base. I’m sure it was lovely – I wish they’d get it going again. There’s nothing sadder than a fountain that doesn’t work. There’s a great photo of the memorial in 1934 here which looks like it has some water in the base.

Of course we were only ever borrowing this delightful little monument. It was dedicated in 1925 on the 10th anniversary of Gallipoli, more or less on the spot it’s sitting in now but was sent to Greenwich while they were building the stupendously ugly Citadel in 1940, though only actually erected there in 1951. And I have to say, from the picture in my out of date guide book, it looked very peaceful there among the trees. It feels a bit stark back in its old home where it was reinstated in 2003 squashed in between the hideous Citadel and Horse Guards next door, a nice enough building, but one so busy the poor old fountain almost disappears:

What once stood proud at the front of the parade ground now hides shyly in a corner. Still. Prince Charles knows best…


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