Martin Jennings FRBS Sculptor

I would like highly to recommend Ian Rank-Broadley’s statue groups at the Armed Forces Memorial for the Marsh Award. These sculptures do everything that one could wish for in a military memorial, expressing the pathos attendant upon the death and injury of young soldiers in war while also enlarging upon the dignity that the monument as a whole confers on those who are commemorated.

The sculptures manage to refer not only to those directly involved in conflict, both men and women soldiers, but also to civilians and to the families of the dead, and thus to the wider circle of damage and grief that ripples out from each single death. Though each group contains an injured or dead figure, glimpses of something beyond loss are implied as well, not only in the figure who gestures towards the light through an opening in the stonework, but in a general sense by the collaborative efforts of all the figures involved in assisting the dead and wounded. The groups work not only in formal terms – they succeed in the immensely difficult task of assembling figures in apt aesthetic tableaux – but also in terms of the very subtle and challenging task of presenting death for what it is while refusing to succumb to despair at war’s horrors. It seems to me that by so doing the sculptures treat with kindness, dignity and respect those relatives of the dead who visit the site, while also offering a philosophical inclusivity to visitors of any religious or secular backgrounds.

The individual figures are modelled with a remarkable verve and a supreme knowledge of human form and its sculptural expression. They are beautifully integrated into the surrounding stonework through various conceits – one figure gesturing to the doorway, another carving the lettering etc. – and the slightly larger-than-lifesize scale gives a monumental feeling to the works without allowing it to become grandiose.

When Charles Sargeant Jagger sculpted the Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park, it was only by a sleight of hand that he was able to include a representation of a dead figure, face covered. Ian Rank-Broadley’s monument moves us on from the rhetoric of many 20th-century war memorials with their emphasis on glory and nationalism, to ask of us that we look the realities of war and death in the face. That it manages to do this without in any way undermining the dignity of those caught up in war’s horrors, is a tribute to the great national importance and modernity of this monument.