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The art of remembering: The WWI memorials of Morris & Alice Meredith Williams


When in June 1916, after more than a year in training, Lt Morris M Williams left for France with the 1st Glamorgan Bantams (the 17th Battalion), the Welsh Regiment, he took with him a supply of pocket-sized sketchbooks. Over the next three years, this art school-trained illustrator made hundreds of quick, unofficial, pencil drawings of life with the Welsh Infantry, then with the Royal Artillery and finally with the Royal Engineers, for whom he stayed behind, after the peace, to make paintings for the record. By then, his sculptor wife, Alice Meredith Williams, was busy working on a series of painted plaster panoramas of women’s war work, for the Imperial War Museum and on a memorial stained glass window for the 17th Battalion.

Neither artist could have predicted that they would spend the next ten years working together on public and private memorials to the men and women who had died as a result of the war. The three most impressive are illustrated below, in chronological order.

In 1920, the architect Sir Robert Lorimer saw Alice’s models for the Imperial War Museum and commissioned her to work with him on a memorial for Queenstown (now Komani) in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. He needed a figure of St George and the Dragon (above) and four low-relief, bronze panels, illustrating different scenes from the South African experience of the war. These included Delville Wood, where more than 2,300 South African troops died. The panels were sketched out by Lorimer and Alice and once approved by the committee in South Africa, drawn in detail by Morris, using his first-hand experience of soldiers in the field, before being modelled by Alice and cast in bronze (below). 

Their next collaboration was on the Paisley War Memorial, considered by many to be one of the finest memorials in Scotland. In 1921, the town council launched a competition to find the best design. There were 197 entries and the one from Robert Lorimer and Alice Meredith Williams came first.

Alice’s sculpture, which is called The Spirit of the Crusaders, features a mounted crusader, carrying the flag of St Andrew and accompanied by four British soldiers moving purposefully forward, despite the weight of their equipment and the never-ending mud. Each figure, drawn by Morris and modelled by Alice, is an individual. The man pictured here walks beside the horse’s rear left leg.

The men looking down from the memorial stare visitors directly in the eye. The sculpture was expertly cast by J.W. Singer in Frome, in Somerset and was unveiled in the pouring rain, in July 1924, by Mrs McNab, a widow who had lost three sons in the war. 

This work led directly to Morris and Alice’s collaboration with Lorimer on the Scottish National War Memorial. Constructed from a former barrack building within the walls of Edinburgh Castle, this extraordinary act of remembrance features the work of eleven artists and more than 200 craftspeople and labourers. Alice designed twelve pieces and collaborated with Morris on three of them, including a bronze panel in memory of the London, Liverpool, Tyneside, Canadian, South African and Scottish, for which Morris produced this drawing:

and the famous bronze frieze around the walls of the shrine. The shrine houses a steel casket containing the names of every Scot or member of a Scottish regiment who died as a result of the First World War. The frieze, in four panels, two long and two short, commemorates sixty roles played by men and women (not forgetting the horses, mules, dogs and pigeons) during war. These four panels are linked by a fifth with thorns, for sacrifice and bay, for victory and wisdom.

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