Construction and Dedication of the WW2 Memorial


UK and Commonwealth Merchant Navy losses in World War 2 were very heavy indeed - to a great extent due to sinkings by German U-boats and mines. There may never be a definitive total, but we know that over 24,000 people were lost at sea. It was decided to commemorate them with a memorial and it was fitting to locate it in Trinity Square Gardens close to that constructed to commemorate similar losses in WW1. In addition to commemorating members of the Merchant Navy, the memorial includes those lost from Fishing Fleets and United Kingdom Lighthouse and Pilotage Services.

This page is about the construction and dedication of the memorial. To go directly to photos and details of casualties recorded on the memorial please click HERE.

Design and Construction

The memorial was designed by Sir Edward Brantwood Maufe (1883-1974) whose other works include the design of the Commonwealth Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede and Guildford Cathedral.

Air Forces Memorial
Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede [60]
Guildford Cathedral
Guildford Cathedral [60]

The cutting below from the Birmingham Daily Gazette 18 January 1952 comments on the design of the memorial and mentions ... a fountain will play in the middle of the gardens ... Either this part of the design was scrapped before building or the fountain was later removed.

Cutting from Birmingham Daily Gazette 18 January 1952 [63]

The proposed design was submitted and on 18 February 1952, The Times newspaper announced that the design had been approved. Note that the organisation that would become the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was known as the Imperial War Graves Commission at that time.

Cutting from The Times 18 February 1952 regarding the approval of the design for the memorial. [59]

On 9 Feb 1954 the Birmingham Post announced that work was about to start on the Memorial.

Cutting from the Birmingham Post [64]

Dedication Panel

A dedication panel was erected between the two main entrances to the memorial and between Charles Wheeler's sculptures representing Officers and Men.

Dedication Panel
Dedication panel for the WW2 memorial [54]

Sculptures by Charles Wheeler

The entrances to the memorial are flanked by two sculptures representing a Merchant Navy Officer and a Seaman.


Sculptures representing the Seven Seas are interspersed between memorial panels.

Sculptures Sculptures Sculptures Sculptures
Sculptures Sculptures Sculptures

A final sculpture on a column features dolphins or porpoises.

Sculptures depicting the seven seas and a decorated column ornament featuring dolphins or porpoises. [54]

General Views of the Memorial

The photos below give a feeling for the magnificent location of the Tower Hill memorials:

General view
Views of the WW2 memorial looking towards the Tower in 2013. The wreaths were from a recent commemoration ceremony. [54]
General view


On 1 Mar 1955 The Times announced the date of the unveiling of the memorial.

Cutting from The Times [59]

On 1 May 1955 The Evening News described how invitations to the unveiling ceremony would be sent out to the next of kin of those commemorated on the Memorial.

Cutting from The Evening News [65]

On 16 Jul 1955 the Illustrated London News reported that work on the memorial was well advanced and printed an image showing this. The position of what was perhaps to become the fountain is clear in the centre of the gardens.

Cutting from The Illustrated London News [66]

On 15 October The Sphere had a full-page article reporting that the construction was almost complete and the bronze panels were being put in place.

Cutting from The Sphere [67]

The memorial was unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 5 November 1955.

Cutting from The Times 7 November 1955 reporting the unveiling ceremony. [59]

The ceremony was also televised. Although there were relatively few people with televisions at the time, there had been an upsurge in ownership as a result of the Coronation in 1953.

Cutting from The Times 7 November 1955 announcing the televising of the unveiling ceremony. [59]

For other people, British Pathé had a newsreel item which was shown in all local cinemas [94]. Click on the icon bottom right of the video window to view it in full screen mode.

Attendance was by invitation only. One of the attendees was the widow of John Baxter who had lost his life on Empire Surf. I am grateful to her relatives for providing these images of the front and back of the invitation card.

Unveiling Unveiling
Invitation to the Unveiling Ceremony. [62]

The Shields Daily News carried a report of the ceremony on 7 Nov 1955. It includes a touching description of the relatives of those commemorated coming up to the memorial to lay flowers, wreaths etc. It must have been a gruelling experience for them but hopefully they got some small comfort from seeing their loved ones commemorated.

Cutting from Shields Daily News [68]

The Arbroath Herald reported on the ceremony on 11 Nov 1955 and gave a fuller account of the speech by The Queen and information about local people who had attended the ceremony.

Cutting from Arbroath Herald [69]

On 12 November the Illustrated London News included this bird's eye view of the ceremony in full swing.

Cutting from the Illustrated London News [66]

On the same day The Sphere published the same photograph as that in the Illustrated London News. The caption resolves the mystery of the 'missing' fountain at the centre of the site by stating that the centre is a silver and bronze mariner's compass. A decision to make this change must have been made at some point before construction started.

Cutting from The Sphere [67]

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