The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

War memorials

London: St Clement Danes

Status: Listed Grade I
Architect: W.A.S. Lloyd, Faith Winter (Sculpture)
Location: Strand, London

The original church was the only church outside the City of London to have been rebuilt by Wren (1681). The steeple was added in 1719.

On 10th May 1941 incendiary bombs gutted the building leaving only the walls and tower standing. In 1953 the church was handed into the keeping of the Air Council and a world-wide appeal was launched to rebuild St Clement Danes. The church was re-constructed in 1958 as a perpetual shrine of remembrance to those killed on active service and those of the Allied Air Forces who gave their lives during the Second World War. It is a living church prayed in daily and visited throughout the year by thousands seeking solace and reflection.

The exterior statues were done by Faith Winter in the 1990s and include Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding, Baron of Bentley Prior and Commander-in-Cheif of the Fighter Command of the RAF. Such a pompous title belies the sterling character of one of the heroes of the World War II. Dowding was responsible for preparing the British Air Force for the Battle of Britain by recognising the importance of radar. It is largely thanks to Dowding that the RAF remained united and wasn’t torn apart by various government departments requiring its services. his epithet reads: To him the people of Britain and of the free world owe largely the way of life and the liberties they enjoy today. 

To the left of Gladstone is one of the more controversial figures of RAF history – Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command from 1942 to 1945 and responsible for the flattening of Dresden, Germany. In the flight for freedom and the Battle of Britain, Bomber Command lost 55,000 men. It is maybe for this reason that the epithet under Bomber Harris addresses his team rather than their leaders as it simply reads: The Nation owes all an immense debt.

Inside, looking at the floor of the church, you will see hundreds of black badges of air forces around the world which form a beautifully classic and simple mosaic, contrasting against the white tiles. You can see which badge belongs to which regiment/air force by consulting the map which is located on a panel to the left of the exit. The big badge located at the entrance/exit is the Commonwealth Air Force logo. Embedded in the walls of the church are the books of remembrance for the RAF personnel who died during the war. The other cabinets store silver and gold plate that has been given to the church by the families of those that have fallen in th various conflicts since aviation has played a role in warfare.

Jon Wright & Joanna Moore

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