Harry and Meghan ‘go through Alice in Wonderland door’ to another Britain as they unveil statue of Wilfred Owen in Birkenhead

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex visit a new sculpture in Hamilton Square to mark the 100th anniversary of war poet Wilfred Owen's death, during a visit to Birkenhead.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex visit a new sculpture in Hamilton Square to mark the 100th anniversary of war poet Wilfred Owen's death, during a visit to Birkenhead.
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It was an odyssey that had begun a century ago in Yorkshire, as the shell-shocked Wilfred sat inside Ripon Cathedral and contemplated his future.

Returned to the western front, he was dead within eight months – killed in action in the last week of the war.

The statue in his honour, unveiled on the centenary of his death, shows an exhausted First World War Tommy, his head in his hands. Yesterday, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex stood in its shadow, in respectful silence.

They had gone, as the local MP put it, down Lewis Carroll’s rabbit hole into another Britain – not just the one Owen had left behind but the present-day reality of his birthplace on the Mersey.

Jim Whelan’s bronze sculpture is in Birkenhead’s Hamilton Square, a small area of green in an otherwise grey sprawl whose unemployment rate is nearly twice the national average. A large crowd had gathered to greet the Royals, and to see Meghan’s growing baby bump, as they arrived to perform the unveiling.

“The two faces of Britain are here in Birkenhead,” said the Labour MP Frank Field, who had invited them.

“They are walking through the Alice in Wonderland door and visiting the other part of Britain – and they wanted to.”

Owen, Mr Field said, was “the most important person for shaping our memory of war”. It was fitting that the statue set new standards in sculpture, he added.

Whelan had named it Futility, after one of the war poems Owen had written during his convalescence in Ripon,

He had been posted to the Northern Command Depot there, shortly before his 25th birthday, which he spent at the Cathedral.

It followed a winter at in the officers’ mess on Scarborough’s North Bay in what is now the Clifton Hotel. He returned to active service in July, determined to go on chronicling what he saw as the horrific reality of the war.

In Birkenhead yesterday, they were doing their best to look to the future, and Meghan and Harry embarked on a round of visits to organisations working to improve the town’s lot.

At the Pyramids Shopping Centre, where they officially opened a community supermarket and cafe aimed at helping to eliminate hunger in the district, they were greeted by about 30 staff members and locals, with Meghan smiling enthusiastically at the assembled crowd. She wore a Babaton by Aritzia dress and coat by Sentaler, and held onto the baby bump as she chatted to waiting dignitaries.

Their next stop was Tomorrow’s Women Wirral, established in 2011 to support women upon their release from prison. It now helps about 6,000 people with training courses and support groups on mental health issues, domestic abuse and addiction.

A member of the management team said Meghan had told him the initiative was “important for Birkenhead” and “appropriate for the country and the world”.