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Renowned sculptor to create new Submariner Memorial

Renowned sculptor to create new Submariner Memorial


16 Feb, 2021

The Submariner Memorial Appeal has announced that prominent British sculptor Paul Day’s creation will be installed at the National Memorial Arboretum and unveiled at a ceremony attended by HRH Prince William, Commodore-in-Chief Submarines …

Known for creations like the Battle of Britain Memorial on London’s Embankment and his Meeting Placesculpture at St Pancras railway station, Paul Day’s design for the submariner community takes its inspiration from the winning entry of a national competition, announced last year by Johnny Mercer MP, Minister for Defence People and Veterans.

The new memorial – 4m long and 3.5m high – will be cast in bronze and will bear on one side the following quote from Sir Winston Churchill: ‘Of all the branches of men in the forces there is none which shows more devotion and faces grimmer perils than the submariner.’

The Submariner Memorial Appeal is currently raising £375,000 to fund and maintain the memorial, which will replace the current small plaque. Actor Colin Firth is supporting the appeal after starring in Kursk: The Last Mission, a film about the loss of a Russian submarine. He is also due to play Naval Officer Ewen Montagu in upcoming film Operation Mincemeat. 

Says Paul: ‘Mirroring the winning design, I imagine visitors walking through a somewhat confined space to suggest the constraints upon movement that dictate life on board a submarine. The conning tower shape has that advantage of being instantly recognisable, a beacon that could easily be spotted and identified within the plethora of monuments at the arboretum.

‘In order to honour the sacrifice of families who bear the brunt of separation and worry, I will decorate one side of the conning tower with a low relief depicting spouses, children and parents waiting for their loved ones to return. They are present in the hearts and minds of those on board. Their subtle presence in relief will signify this and the very real part they play in keeping submarines working at sea.’

The pictures below show the winning design concept and are not an artist’s impression of the finished sculpture




Actor and Submariner Memorial Appeal supporter Colin Firth adds: ‘Filming Kursk: The Last Mission gave me a vivid insight into the lives of our submariners. Both those in the service and their loved ones have made huge sacrifices over the past century – and continue to do so today as they carry out their secret work far from the public gaze. As so many of our lost submariners have no grave, a fitting memorial at the National Arboretum will give those left behind a place to gather and grieve. I can’t wait to see this appeal reach its goal.’ 

Chris Groves, on behalf of the Groves family, whose design won the public national competition to inspire the final design, said: ‘Three generations of our family have been submariners – my father Adrian, me, my son Nick and his girlfriend Si. We are really passionate about the Submarine Service and we wanted to create a design that would be a fitting memorial for all the submarine family. We will be hugely proud of the eventual memorial.’ 

Click here to watch a video that gives an idea of how the memorial may look, although the site and approach/pathways have yet to be finalised.


Remembering our father, the submariner

Sisters Ann Matthews, 81, and Gill House, 79, have no memory of their submariner father. AB James Shanahan was lost with Second World War submarine HMS Utmost in the Mediterranean in November 1942, aged just 30. 

Four months earlier the gun layer had been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal at Buckingham Palace by George VI. The medal’s citation spoke of AB Shanahan’s ‘efficiency as a helmsman at diving stations, his keenness as night lookout and excellent hearing during depth charge attacks, contributing to HMS Utmost’s success’. (The accompanying photograph shows AB Shanahan outside the palace after receiving his medal.) 

The U Class submarine had a significant impact in the Mediterranean during the first years of the war, sinking German and Italian vessels, but she is thought to have been lost in a minefield while returning to Malta at the end of her 24th war patrol. 

Following AB Shanahan’s death, his wife Bridget worked to support Ann and Gill, who were sent to live with their grandmother Annie Scanlon in County Cork for safety. In 1947, Bridget was able to have her daughters back home in England but, until then, Gill and Ann’s granny was the only mother they knew. 

The sisters still have the letters their father sent home from Malta but have only looked at them once because his loss remains so raw. ‘The last time my father left the house he said, “It won’t be long before Ann’s 21.” When I went into the kitchen on my 21st birthday, there was a present on the table and my mum was crying her eyes out,’ remembers Ann. 

The sisters have made a significant contribution to the Submariner Memorial Appeal, which plans to replace the current small remembrance plaque at the National Arboretum. For them, a new, fitting memorial will be ‘a recognition of just how many submariners died’. 

‘When you look at all the other memorials and you look at that one, it’s just so sad. Many of our submariners died in a terrible way,’ they add. Indeed, about one-third of Second World War Royal Navy submariners perished, most without graves. 

About the Submarine Service 

Often known as the ‘Silent Service’ the Royal Navy has always been at the forefront of underwater warfare, and has built an enduring reputation for professionalism and courage. Submarines combine qualities of stealth, endurance and flexibility – characteristics that give them unparalleled freedom to operate worldwide in support of national and coalition operations. 

Since 1968, the Royal Navy has deployed the UK’s nuclear deterrent by maintaining one nuclear missile-armed submarine at sea on patrol continuously. Other nuclear-powered submarines carry the Tomahawk cruise missile and have been involved in all recent UK military campaigns, from Kosovo to Afghanistan and Libya. 

For more information on submarines, click here

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