THE INTERNATIONAL MEMORIAL FOR THE BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC 1939-45
“The Battle of the Atlantic was the dominating factor all through the war. Never for one moment could we forget that everything happening elsewhere, on land at sea or in the air, depended ultimately on its outcome.”—Winston Churchill
The Battle of the Atlantic was the most important campaign of World War II as, without success, other campaigns would have not been possible, particularly the landings in Europe in June 1944. It was the longest continuous campaign of the war, lasting from the declaration of war in 1939 until Victory in Europe in May 1945.
The toll was high on all sides: more than 2,000 merchant ships were sunk; over 30,000 merchant seamen and 10,000 allied naval personnel lost their lives; and 70% of German submariners did not return to their home bases.
Despite its significance, the Battle of the Atlantic does not have an overall memorial in the United Kingdom unlike other major campaigns of World War 2. Thus, a project has been set up to create an appropriate memorial and fill that gap. As the number of surviving veterans of that generation dwindle, it is important that we create a reminder in perpetuity of the losses and hard learned lessons of that campaign and the Second World War in general. We want the memorial to be a defining symbol of remembrance that recognises those personal sacrifices and serves as a reminder of the high cost and incalculable value of peace.
The concept of a memorial to the Battle of the Atlantic is not new because an earlier project sought to purchase HMS Whimbrel, a surviving Battle of the Atlantic escort vessel which had been sold to Egypt in 1949. The plan had been to repatriate the vessel to the United Kingdom and fit her out as a living memorial to the campaign berthed in Liverpool. Sadly, after many years of negotiation, the Egyptians would still not agree a price so that project was wound up in 2015. In its place, a new project has emerged under the leadership of Vice Admiral Mike Gretton whose father, Commander Peter Gretton (later Vice Admiral Sir Peter Gretton) was a renowned convoy escort commander.
The concept of this project is to establish a land-based memorial in the vicinity of the Pier Head at Liverpool. In addition to commemorating the Battle of the Atlantic and all its participants on land sea and in the air, this memorial will have an important educational role, informing the public – particularly young people – about the Battle of the Atlantic and its vital significance. This will be achieved by working closely with the nearby Merseyside Maritime Museum which already has a gallery specifically dedicated to the Battle of the Atlantic. With further enhancement, the Museum will be developed into an academic centre where institutions, researchers and interested parties can visit to access information and learn more about the Battle.
It is intended that this will be a truly international memorial and appropriate recognition of participants will include:
- The British and Allied Merchant Navies noting that seafarers from all over the world served in these ships.
- The British Armed Forces – Royal Navy and Royal Marines, the Army and the Royal Air Force.
- Civilian support ashore.
- Allied Armed Forces including Canada, Norway, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Poland, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, the Soviet Union and the United States.
- Former adversaries – Germany, Italy.
The bravery and dedication of all these peoples and nations will be commemorated in the city which was at the heart of the effort in the UK, Liverpool. The Command Headquarters of the campaign was in Liverpool and many of the warships and merchant vessels were based there.
The Project is registered as a charity with the Charity Commission and is supported by a Board of Trustees. The Board was chaired by Vice Admiral Mike Gretton CB CVO until he stood down due to ill health at the end of July 2018. Captain Patrick Walker, a Trustee, agreed to adopt the mantle of Acting Chairman until a new and permanent Chairman could be identified and elected. Other members include:
Mrs Pamela Brown MBE SSStJ DL MNM – Director and Trustee (maritime charities)
Commodore Gary Doyle RN – Director and Trustee (Group Harbour Master Peel Ports)
Stephen Drury Esq – Director and Trustee (Partner HFW – shipping legal expertise)
Bob Pointing Esq – Director and Trustee (Chairman Canal & River Trust North West)
Commodore Rod Walker RD* RNR DL – Honorary Treasurer, Director and Trustee
Commodore Phillip Waterhouse ADC RN – Ex Officio Trustee, and Director (Naval Regional Commander NE&IOM)
Captain Chris Pile RN – Company and Charity Secretary
Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal, has graciously agreed to be the Patron of the project.
Progress to date
A site for the memorial has been approved between the western side of the Museum of Liverpool and the River Mersey. It has the advantage of being close to the Pier Head, the Merseyside Maritime Museum and the Albert Dock.
After a tender selection process in June 2017, Architects Donald Insall Associates, with offices in London and Chester, supported by sculptor Paul Day, were selected to complete the memorial. Impressive examples of their previous work include the Battle of Britain Monument on the Embankment in London and the Iraq and Afghanistan memorial in Victoria Embankment Gardens, also in London. Unfortunately, due to a conflict of commitments, Paul Day had to stand down as the sculptor for the Project and his place has been taken by Philip Jackson, another eminent sculptor whose memorial work includes the Bomber Command memorial and the Korean War memorial.
Work to develop creative ideas that will meet the commemorative and educational concept of the Battle of Atlantic memorial is underway and the sculptor’s latest maquette represents the work in progress. This maquette takes the form of a split pediment, the shape of which can be taken to represent two wave forms or the sterns of two sinking merchant ships. Between the two pediments is a group of statues representing participants in the campaign. In real life, it is anticipated that the overall length of the memorial will extend to about 28 metres.
It is also intended that the existing individual memorial plaques at the Pier Head, including the statue of the acclaimed Captain Johnnie Walker RN, will be relocated within this new site. The Board have some reservations about elements of the current design and a design workshop was held on 13 September to discuss in detail. Work is now underway to revise the Brief for the architect/sculptor to enable further design work to proceed.
At the time of the latest maquette of the proposed memorial being presented, it was estimated that the overall cost of the project would be £2.75million. To date some £85,000 ‘pump priming’ money has been raised and it is anticipated that a further £100,000 will be needed to take the project forward to the start of the construction phase. To date fundraising has been conducted in house but the employment of professional fundraisers is being investigated and negotiated.
With the regrettable standing down of the Chairman in July, the opportunity has been taken to conduct a close review of where the project stands. There was concern that the project was attempting to move forward too fast without key targets having been achieved and without sufficient funds being in place. To that end, the Board agreed:
- that the project should ‘mark time’ until key issues are resolved. There is no critical time path.
- that expenditure should be reduced to a minimum until appropriate funding is in place.
- that further discussion of the memorial design concept should take place and a revised Brief compiled to provide more specific guidance for the architect and sculptor.
- that a new permanent Chairman be sought for the project
- that additional Merchant Navy experience be sought for membership of the Board of Trustees.
- there is an urgent requirement to raise the additional ‘pump priming’ funds, estimated at £100,000, necessary to develop and submit the final design for planning approval.
- that, before a capital fundraising campaign can commence, planning approval must have been granted against an approved design.
.It is hoped that the Project will be in a position to seek planning approval for the memorial design in the Spring of 2019 to enable full implementation of a capital fundraising campaign to proceed very shortly thereafter.
Patrick Walker CBE
Captain, Royal Navy
Donors to date
Bathgate Charitable Trust
Britannia’s Gold Ltd
Maritime Air Trust
Clive & Sylvia Richards Trust
Worshipful Company of Fuellers
Honourable Company of Air Pilots
Charles Crewdson Esq.
Manchester Naval Officers’ Association
Richard Lovegrove Esq.
The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity
The Sea Urchins