Thursday, 2 February 2017

92 The Cenotaph

92 Names of fallen enhance city’s memorial to them

The word “cenotaph” derives from the Greek word “kenotaphion” meaning empty tomb, a memorial to those killed in war but buried elsewhere.  Cenotaphs were common in the ancient world, with many built in Ancient Egypt.  The massive Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, South Africa, and the memorial to the defenders of The Alamo in Texas are prominent overseas cenotaphs. 
In London the cenotaph in Whitehall is undecorated, apart from a wreath carved on each end and the words "The Glorious Dead," words chosen by Lloyd George.  Though intended originally to commemorate the victims of the First World War, it now commemorates the dead in all wars in which British servicemen and women have fought.  The dates of the First and the Second World Wars are inscribed in Roman numerals.  The Whitehall cenotaph’s design by Sir Edwin Lutyens was followed in constructing many other memorials in the country, in the British sectors of the Western Front, and in other Commonwealth countries.  The Whitehall cenotaph was originally a temporary wooden memorial to mark the signing of the final peace treaty to end the First World War on 28 June 1919 (seven months after Armistice Day).  But when a great procession had passed the cenotaph that day, mourners began to lay wreaths around its base, so it was decided to replace it with a permanent stone structure as the country's national war memorial: this was unveiled on 11 November 1920 as the 'Unknown Warrior' was carried past en route to burial in Westminster Abbey.
Swansea’s earlier cenotaph was in memory of those who died during the South African or Boer War of 1899 to 1902.  It was unveiled by Mayor Griffith Thomas in April 1904 and initially sited at the original entrance to Victoria Park, flanked by two cannons, until moved onto the promenade in 1932 when the Guildhall was being erected.  The foundation stone of Swansea’s cenotaph in memory of those killed during the twentieth century’s two World Wars was laid on the Promenade by Field Marshall Earl Haig on 1 July 1922, with a King’s Shilling laid beneath on behalf of war widows.  Designed by Swansea Borough architect Ernest Morgan, based on that of the Whitehall cenotaph, this cenotaph was unveiled a year later by the Admiral of the Fleet Sir Doveton Sturdee.  
The Imperial War Museum’s War Memorials Register describes it as being on a stepped base, with the central Portland stone cenotaph having a stylised tomb-chest, and bronze low relief wreaths to the narrow sides with the dates 1914-1918 and 1939-1945.  The broad side facing the sea has a bronze relief of an anchor in a wreath, while the land side has the Swansea arms below the Latin inscription: Pro Deo Rege et Patria (for God, King and Country).  The precinct is surrounded by an octagonal wall with four entrances, the outer faces of wall being in grey stone (with flower beds) and the inner faces having copings and entrance piers in Portland stone. The inner faces of the wall bear bronze plaques with names of the fallen, 2,274 from the First World War and a further 500 from the Second.  There are stones recording the foundation and unveiling.  
But is it a cenotaph or a war memorial?  A colour postcard of Swansea’s cenotaph, first produced by Valentine’s of Dundee in 1925, depicts the cenotaph on the Promenade, with in the distance the signal box of the LMS railway, but the scene is described as “The Promenade and the War Memorial”.  Aberdare in mid-Glamorgan claims to have Britain’s only cenotaph apart from the one in Whitehall, and would classify all others as war memorials - possibly because they list the names of those killed.   
As far as we are concerned, on Swansea’s Promenade stands the cenotaph, which is enhanced rather than diminished by the names of those who died in action.                                

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