Tuesday, 8 February 2011



Muriel was a distant relative-by-marriage who was living in Lowestoft when she was sent to work in a munitions factory. One day while the works radio was playing her favourite song You Are My Sunshine, My Only Sunshine/You Make Me Happy/When Skies are Grey the air raid siren sounded. The girls all scrambled out to safety. But Muriel ran back to collect her cardigan. Was she cold? Was it a present from someone special? Had she spent months knitting it? She was blown to smithereens. Ever after her family kept a round-the-clock guard on the wireless . When ‘her’ song was announced, someone was always nearby to turn the 'off' switch.  

Muriel was just one of the seven million women for whom this beautiful and moving monument was erected in 2005, 60 years after the end of WW2. It’s a 22ft high bronze sculpture standing proud in a central reservation in Whitehall, but it's different to many monuments nearby. 'It is not by nature purely a military memorial. It depicts the uniforms of women in the forces alongside the working clothes of those who worked in the factories, the hospitals, the emergency services and the farms’. So said the former Speaker of the House of Commons Baroness Betty Boothroyd at the unveiling, when military helicopters with all-female crews flew past to mark the occasion. Several women who had won the George Medal, the second highest gallantry award that a civilian can be awarded, were there too.

There is sadness and poignancy about this sculpture too. The clothes do not hang flat and lifeless against the wall but are gently sculpted so as to suggest the bodies of the women who wore them. If you brave the traffic and stand on the reservation you can see that there is air in the empty spaces where human beings should be. And, on the day I was there, just a few poppies on top of a hand written note which I felt was not meant for my eyes. 
I looked John Mills up on Google and discovered that in England alone his work can be found in  Harlow, Ashington, Sawbridgeworth, Isle of Dogs, Croyden, Newton Aycliffe, Cambridge, Hemel Hempstead, & Tooting. And at Bedford - a lively and dashing sculpture (of a family) which I've always liked but never bothered to find out who the artist was.

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