The Twentieth Century Society

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Click to see full size Photo © Gavin Stamp
Photo © Gavin Stamp
Photo © Gavin Stamp
Photo © Gavin Stamp

War memorials

France: Neuve Chapelle: Indian Army Memorial

Architect: Sir Herbert Baker
Owners: Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Location: Pas de Calais, France

Neuve Chapelle is a memorial to 4,843 missing Indian soldiers designed by Sir Herbert Baker and sculptors Charles Wheeler and Joseph Armitage. Baker used traditional Indian motifs familiar from his Secretariat buildings in New Delhi as well as Lutyens’s Viceroy’s House. Baker wrote in his autobiography, Architecture and Personalities (1944), “Because of my interest in Indian art and history I specially welcomed the commission to design the Indian Memorial at Neuve Chapelle, which enshrines the names of the soldiers who fell on the battle-fields there and on other fields. It consists of a circular space of green turf with stone paths surrounded by a high stone wall, solid at one end where the names are inscribed, and pierced elsewhere and carved with symbols like the railings of Buddha’s Shrine at Budh Guaya and those surrounding the great Sanchi topes – low domes preserving sacred relics of Buddha. In the centre, opposite the names, is an Asoka Column raised on high and guarded either side by sculptured tigers. The entrance is through a small domed chattri with pierced stone grilles or jaalis – a familiar feature of Indian buildings; another similar chattri opposite forms a Shelter. Outside there is – or was? – mown turf, overhung with weeping willows, sloping down to moats in which grew wild iris and water-lilies. The shrine had a sense of reverence and eternal peace. Robert Lorimer, the Scottish architect, who designed the Italian War Cemeteries, wrote to me that this cemetery impressed him more than any other he had seen in France. I quote his verdict because it shows how strong is the appeal of the simple cloistered form of war memorial on the battle-fields.”

The memorial was unveiled in 1927 in the presence of Rudyard Kipling but was later damaged in 1940. Sir Fabian Ware wrote to Baker in 1944 that “I am sorry to say that the Indian Memorial at Neuve Chapelle has been less fortunate than Tyne Cot. It has been rather seriously damaged, about thirty feet of walling having been knocked down…” The previous year Baker had written to Ware that, “I think this second war has taught us not to overdo monumental architecture in the cemeteries”. Ware replied that, “We have received no evidence to suggest that the Germans treat the cemeteries with anything but respect.”

Gavin Stamp

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