Listening post still signalling a message of horror

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ONE of the soldiers hangs limply from the barbed wire, while another is slumped forward his twisted body sitting unnaturally on the ground. Then your eye follows the appalling scene of devastation and fixes on a bare foot poking out of the mud.

Even now, almost a century after it was created, Charles Sargeant Jagger’s First World War memorial sculpture, No Man’s Land 1919-20, still has the power to shock.

It shows a ‘listening post’ where a soldier would hide among the dead bodies, broken stretchers and barbed wire of no man’s land, in order to listen out for the enemy.

The plaster frieze was inspired by the Yorkshire-born artist’s own harrowing experiences of fighting on the front, where he was wounded three times and awarded the Military Cross for bravery.

No Man’s Land is part of Wakefield’s Permanent Art Collection and is being seen for the first time in nearly 20 years to mark the centenary of the First World War.

Today, time is catching up with the frieze and in one corner the white plaster has started showing through the bronze paint.

In September it will be shown in this fragile, pre-conserved state as part of a new exhibition by contemporary artist Toby Ziegler at The Hepworth Wakefield.

The project to conserve the art work is being used by the gallery to launch its new fundraising campaign – I’m Yours, which aims to raise £10,000 not only to conserve this Jagger frieze but also other key works from the collection.

Jagger himse has close ties with Yorkshire. He was born in Kilnhurst, near Sheffield, and made his name during the 1920s as a war memorial designer and sculptor.

Arguably his most famous work is the Royal Artillery Memorial in London’s Hyde Park Corner, which is widely regarded as one of Britain’s greatest war memorials.

There are several versions of No Man’s Land – the final piece is on show at Tate Britain – and Frances Guy, head of collections and exhibitions at The Hepworth Wakefield, says Jagger’s plaster memorial was important for several reasons.

“After the war he became an official war artist who was commissioned to produce memorial sculptures for the nation. But what’s interesting is that this one wasn’t commissioned, it was his own work which allowed him to be more expressive.”

Interestingly, the original frieze housed in Wakefield carries an inscription from To the Vanguard, by the war poet Beatrix Brice-Miller, which was left off the final bronze sculpture.

The inscription refers to the soldiers as being like “a living shield” while in Jagger’s work the only living soldier is using his dead comrades as a shield.

“We don’t know exactly why this was later removed but he may have been worried about the implications and how it might be seen,” says Guy.

Jagger died in 1934 at the age of just 48 and two years later Wakefield Art Gallery bought the memorial frieze for £70 after launching a big public appeal for subscriptions.

Sculpture conservator, Laura Davies, believes it is important that we have this piece here in Yorkshire.

“Jagger was a Yorkshire-based artist and it’s important that we have some of his works in the north because it’s where he lived and worked,” she says.

To find out more about the I’m Yours campaign visit the gallery’s website at www.hepworthwakefield.org/support or call 01924 247 365.

• The graves of 39 British soldiers who died in a German prisoner of war camp during the First World War are being restored, one hundred years after the start of the conflict.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is rebuilding the cemetery at Lidzbark Warminski in northern Poland, including the erection of new headstones to mark the centenary of the war.

Thirty-nine men died while being held in the camp and were buried in a local cemetery which was marked with a traditional Cross of Sacrifice and headstones by the CWGC after the conflict ended.

The work, which started last week, will be followed by a re-dedication ceremony that is planned for in May and which is expected to be attended by some of the men’s families.