War Memorial in Newcastle

The Renwick Memorial, or The Response, at Barras Bridge, Newcastle, is considered to be one of the finest of its kind in the country and is Grade II listed.Given to the city of Newcastle by Sir George Renwick in 1923, the monument was recently renovated and rededicated at a ceremony which was attended by the Duke of Edinburgh.

The memorial was commissioned by Sir George and Lady Renwick to commemorate three events: the raising of the Commercial Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers; the return of the five Renwick sons from the war; and Sir George Renwick's attainment of 50 years of commercial life on Newcastle Quayside.
Described by Alan Borg, a former Director General of the Imperial War Museum as "one of the finest sculptural ensembles on any British monument." Goscombe John designed 'The Response 1914' as a narrative sculpture depicting soldiers marching off to war watched by an angel while women and children bid them farewell.

A large and striking memorial consisting of a rusticated granite screen on which is mounted a high relief depiction of soldiers responding to the call-up for the First World War, modelled virtually in the round from black bronze. Two drummer boys lead the procession and further back are scenes of men taking leave of their wives and children who are torn between distress and patriotic fervour. The expectant soldiers and anxious loved-ones are portrayed with sympathetic naturalism, whilst the relief is given dynamic impetus by the crush to the left of the composition around the flag and figure of 'Renown', who flies above the crowd with raised trumpet. The stone above her is carved with a low relief castle.

On the rear of the wall there are several low reliefs carved directly into the grey granite. St. George is depicted in medieval military dress with lance and shield, standing on a pair of intertwined sea horses (the supporters on the City's coat of arms). On either side is a shield with heraldic castles, the Newcastle coat of arms. Flanking these are two figures: on the left an original Northumberland militiaman, with '1674' inscribed under; on the right a First World War fusilier, with '1919' inscribed under. The whole is set upon a flight of three shallow steps, amidst a carefully tended flower bed, situated against the background of the Civic Centre. 'The Response' has been described by Alan Borg (former Director General of the Imperial War Museum) as 'one of the finest sculptural ensembles on any British monument, [...] a magnificent statement displaying John's virtuosity to the full and deserving to be recognised as a key work in this genre.

Sir George Renwick, local ship-owner and MP for Morpeth, proposed to donate the memorial to the city in 1922, in commemoration of three events. First, the raising of the Commercial Battalions of the Northumberland Fusiliers by the Chamber of Commerce Military Committee before World War One. Second, the safe return of all five of his sons from the war. Thirdly, his attainment of fifty years of commercial life on Newcastle Quayside in 1916. Goscombe John visited Newcastle in June 1922 to look at potential sites and Sir George felt confident that the monument would be a fine and imposing work of art, worthy of a place among the many monuments in his native city.

Only one condition was imposed by Sir George and Lady Renwick, that the Corporation should provide a suitable site for the monument. Alderman Sir George Lunn said that the Council should gratefully accept the gift and provide a site ready for unveiling in the following year. A meeting of the Council and Trustees of St. Mary Magdalene Hospital in February 1923 agreed that a portion of the grounds at St. Thomas's church should be given to the city for the monument. Although the title of the monument obviously refers to the call to arms in 1914, the subject matter for the bronze relief has been identified as the massing of the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers in April 1915. They marched from their camp in Gosforth Park down the Great North Road, through the Haymarket and on to the central station. 'Their route was lined by well-wishers and their parents, wives and children, some cheering, some weeping, as the flower of their youth went out to sacrifice itself on Europe's battlefield.' 'The Response' was unveiled by the Prince of Wales as part of a visit that he made to the city in July 1923.

In the morning he visited St. James's Park football ground to watch a spectacle 'unique in the history of Newcastle'. 42,000 children in the stands displayed flags of red, white and blue in different combinations at given signals and in perfect silence, with the Prince saying that it was the finest thing he had seen in his life. In the afternoon he proceeded to St. Thomas's Church grounds where he met Sir George and Lady Renwick and the sculptor Sir William Goscombe John, among others. A guard of honour from the Northumberland Fusiliers was in attendance, along with a party of blind ex-sailors and ex-soldiers and an 'enormous concourse of spectators' (recorded by a picture postcard of the ceremony). The story is told of one bystander noting that that it seemed odd that the soldiers should be resolutely marching off northwards, away from the front. The memorial was unveiled at midday by the Prince before moving in procession to the Exchange buildings on the quayside. Here he made a speech drawing attention to the suffering of Newcastle during the war, before thanking the city for its record in service and wishing it better times ahead.


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