Object of the Month - November

29 November, 2021

The Artillery Subaltern Maquette

The RA Museum collection contains an extraordinary variety of pieces from small arms to missile launchers, drones to communication systems and insignia to medals. In acknowledgement of Remembrance Day earlier this month, we wanted to share an item that has a special significance to all Gunners.

At almost 19 inches high and cast in bronze, The Artillery Subaltern is a maquette by the renowned sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger of his larger figure which stands at the southern end of the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner. The memorial was unveiled in 1925 to commemorate the 49,076 Gunners killed in World War One.

Born near Rotherham in 1885, Jagger started a silver-engraving apprenticeship aged fourteen while studying art part-time. In 1903 he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art to study sculpture. On completion, he secured a further scholarship to study at the British School in Rome, which he relinquished at the outbreak of the war in 1914. He enlisted with the Artist's Rifles and was commissioned into the Worcester Regiment.

Awarded the Military Cross for gallantry, he was shot through the shoulder at Gallipoli and later gassed in the trenches and wounded again in Flanders. In the final months of the war he was appointed an Official War Artist by the Ministry of Information.

With his first-hand experience of war and the recognition of the realism and starkness of his work, Jagger was approached by the Royal Artillery War Commemoration Fund Committee to submit a design for the memorial after they had rejected ideas from several other sculptors. The Committee consisted of 55 members of all ranks from Gunner to General and was formed in 1918 to oversee the Regiment’s commemorations. The specification given to Jagger was for ‘a sculptured group in bronze on a suitable pedestal, such as will be unmistakably recognisable as an Artillery memorial to any Gunner or layman of ordinary intelligence.’ Jagger’s design was unanimously approved by the Committee although the sculptor made several changes to the final design, making it a third bigger and adding two more bronze figures including an effigy of a dead soldier. This was met with some opposition, however, Jagger believed a memorial should tell the public about the horror and terror of war. He felt so strongly that he even offered to pay for the cast of the model himself. He later commented that the "experience in the trenches persuaded me of the necessity for frankness and truth."

The final memorial consists of a platform and pedestal surmounted by a sculptured representation of a 9.2 inch BL Howitzer. At the southern end stands the figure of an Artillery subaltern and on the east and west sides respectively are figures of a Gunner carrying 18 pounder ammunition and a Driver sheltering in a waterproof sheet. At the northern end, over the spot where copies of the Roll of Honour and the Royal Artillery War Commemoration Book have been deposited, is the figure of a dead artilleryman, covered with his greatcoat and steel helmet. Bas-reliefs depicting various branches of the Royal Artillery in action are carved on the four sides of the pedestal.

The initial reaction to the memorial was mixed with some believing it was too graphic and lacked any symbolism of peace. However Jagger was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Society of Sculptors for his work and the memorial was well-received by the Regiment and by veterans at large.

In 1949 three bronze panels were added in memory of the 30,000 Gunners who were killed in World War II.

The memorial is now internationally recognised as one of the finest erected anywhere after the First World War. Its Grade One Designation states ‘its combination of sculptural force, boldness of conception, vivid narrative and humanity makes the memorial pre-eminent.’

We are extremely honoured to have an item associated with this remarkable memorial to those officers and soldiers of the Royal Regiment of Artillery who lost their lives in conflicts across the globe.