War Memorials and Symbolism

If you take a look around your local cemetery, you’ll notice that some images seem to crop up time and time again. Over the coming months, we’ll be explaining some of the symbolism on memorials and monuments to the dead. Tying in with this and the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, we start with a bit of history behind the Hoylake and West Kirby War Memorial.

Before the outbreak of WWI, war memorials were usually erected to mark great victories in battle. It wasn’t nearly as common to commemorate those who were injured or lost their lives. But the sheer number who died in the ‘war to end all wars’ and the impact on communities up and down the country was so great that people felt moved to remember those who had laid down their lives for their country and for freedom.

Hoylake and West Kirby War Memorial

This memorial stands on top of Grange Hill in West Kirby with views to the surrounding areas, Liverpool Bay, Liverpool and Wales. It’s a Grade 2* listed monument and was unveiled by the Earl of Birkenhead on 16 December 1922.

Hoylake and West Kirby War Memorial - Defence

Hoylake and West Kirby War Memorial – Defence

The figures on the memorial were created by Charles Sergeant Jagger (1885-1934) who himself fought in Gallipoli and on the Western Front. He began work on the project while recovering from war wounds in 1917, which was the first of many war memorials he was to design. Having personally seen combat at close hand, he rejected the fashionable idealistic and modernist styles of sculpture at the time and instead portrayed his soldiers as realistic and rugged. The male figure on this memorial is called ‘Soldier on Defence’ and shows a British infantry soldier dressed for winter. He’s standing guard with his standard issue .303 rifle horizontal, with bayonet fixed. A German soldier’s helmet lies at his feet.

Hoylake and West Kirby War Memorial - Humanity

Hoylake and West Kirby War Memorial – Humanity

On the opposite side is a woman dressed in robes called ‘Humanity’. She holds a wreath of twigs and poppies – the wreath has been a symbol used at funerals since Ancient Greek times to represent the circle of eternal life. Poppies became the symbol of remembrance because they were one of the few plants to grow on the barren battlefields of Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. ‘Humanity’ rests her head on a pillow of lilies, which often symbolise purity and immortality.

Together, the statues represent redemption, sacrifice and heroism.


Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.