Sculptor who carved out niche commemorating fallen

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Charles Sergeant Jagger fought in the Great War and afterwards created memorials to the soldiers who died. Peter Tuffrey looks back at the Yorkshire sculptor’s life.

THE giant Royal Artillery Memorial at London’s Hyde Park Corner is one of the most powerful tributes to the thousands of Royal Artillery casualties of the First World War.

It also ranks as one of Charles Sergeant Jagger’s most accomplished works, earning him the accolade as a great interpreter in stone of the war-time soldier.

Born 1885, in the humble pit village of Kilnhurst, near Rotherham, Jagger was the son of a colliery manager. He started to sculpt at the age of six and recalled walking on Whitley beach with his father when he saw a little man moulding a figure there. As a young man, Jagger was an apprentice metal engraver with the Sheffield firm, Mappin & Webb, and then taught metal engraving at night at Sheffield College of Art, before winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in 1907.

In 1914 he won a Prix de Rome scholarship but war came, and instead of going to Rome he joined the Artists’ Rifles. He went to war in September 1915 and served as 2nd Lieutenant in the 13th Battalion of the Royal Worcester Regiment. He was wounded several times fighting in Gallipoli and Neuve-Eglise and was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry.

After the war he returned to his art and commissions, for the GWR memorial at Paddington and the Royal Artillery memorial, soon followed. The latter was commissioned by the Royal Artillery War Commemoration Fund Committee (RAWCFC) which wanted a single memorial to the fallen Royal Artillery servicemen, numbering 49,076.

The prestigious scheme attracted a number of well-known sculptors but finally the committee approached Jagger in 1921. He felt strongly that the piece should unashamedly focus on the events of the war and “should in every sense be a war memorial” and was opposed to the idea that the monument might embody some of the symbolism of peace.

The RAWCFC were concerned that his robust design, oozing realism, might offend some members of the public but still awarded the contract to Jagger in March 1922. At 43 feet long and 30 feet high, the memorial includes a huge sculpture of a howitzer on a stone plinth. Reliefs carved in stone depict a number of detailed military scenes. Four bronze figures on each side show a driver on the west side; an artillery captain to the east, a shell carrier to the north; and a dead soldier on the south.

It was unveiled on October 18, 1925 by Prince Arthur and the Rev Alfred Jarvis. The RAWCFC was pleased with the end result, although it aroused a great deal of public debate.

Jagger remarked to the Daily Express that the “experience in the trenches persuaded me of the necessity for frankness and truth”. However, one critic said Jagger regarded “a war memorial as a means of forcing home on the minds of the public the horror and terror of war” and felt that the sculpture of the dead soldier was inappropriate.

The Times gave an unfavourable review and the Daily Mail argued that cash spent on the monument should have gone towards caring for injured veterans, although the Manchester Guardian offered support, saying its frankness was “a terrible revelation long overdue”. In spite of the mixed reviews, the work won Jagger the medal of the Royal Society of British Sculptors in 1926.

More war memorials, as well as other public sculptures, were produced by Jagger who died after contracting pneumonia at the age of just 49 in 1934.

Today, monuments and memorials have fallen out of favour, particularly those which feature the highly emotive imagery so characteristic of Jagger’s work. But in this centenary year it is perhaps time that we looked at them again with a fresh perspective.