Are the Statues of Soldiers on War Memorials Based on Real People?

Louth War Memorial
Eastgate, Louth, Lincolnshire

Listed: 2013
Grade: II
NHLE entry: Listing details for Louth War Memorial

2014: ‘Lest We Forget’

In 2014, we begin four years of remembrance to mark the centenary of the First World War. No other part of our heritage is more poignantly represented than the loss of those who died in that conflict - our memories of them live on in a huge number of war memorials.

As Maria Miller, the Secretary of State for Media, Culture and Sport noted in 2013, 'Whether we have relatives whose names are on local memorials, or who fought alongside those who died, we all have a connection with remembrance.' Many communities are making a special effort this year to commemorate those who gave their lives by emphasising the importance of war memorials. In addition, we have made a commitment that, during the centenary period, 2014 to 2018, we will list up to 500 of these memorials.

It's widely assumed that the soldiers standing atop the monuments aren't based on any specific person but instead symbolise the 'unknown soldier'. Yet when in 2013 the war memorial in Louth, Lincolnshire was listed, the story of that monument's soldier was discovered. It revealed that, in some remarkable cases, war memorials can embody a local, and sometimes very personal, connection to the war.

A figure frozen in time

Made by a local masonry firm and unveiled in 1921, the Louth War Memorial is a moving reminder of the impact that successive wars had on this community. The stone monument commemorates the names of those who served in two World Wars on the plinth - 209 names alone fell in the First World War. Engraved on shields around the base are the 15 names of the Louth civilians who were tragically killed in the town's bombing raids in 1941.

Standing guard over these fallen comrades and townspeople is the figure of Regimental Sergeant Major George Frederick Jones. RSM Jones served under the South Staffordshire Regiment in the First World War, and was stationed in Louth. Yet his identity as the stone soldier was unknown until his daughter gave his medals and images of her father posing for photographers to the Louth Royal British Legion in the late 20th century.

The uncanny likeness between the soldier on the plinth and RSM George Jones's image on the photographs - standing at ease in full service uniform and holding a Lee-Enfield rifle - confirmed that the local borough had chosen to depict the local soldier, one who had thankfully returned home to his family.

Whether RSM George Jones was selected to stand for the town's servicemen because of his rank or for more practical reasons, we may never know. Either way, it seems fitting that, as we begin our national commemorations, such a provincial war memorial can embody deeply personal narratives of honour, pain and family sacrifice.