A war memorial for our times

In the last year, Cranleigh School has commissioned and developed a new war memorial

Cranleigh School has set out to create a memorial that can commemorate the history of our country and the service of the fallen, whilst making it relevant to a generation that thinks in terms of globalisation and peacekeeping. The school commissioned Nicholas Dimbleby, the figurative sculptor of the well-known Whistler on the Southbank, to make a sculpture to sit at the centre. The resulting war memorial will be a piece like no other, a challenging and controversial sculpture that signifies peace and duty as well as honouring the fallen. 

Nicholas held meetings with staff, Old Cranleighans and pupils to get to the heart of what the piece should convey. Nicholas is an Old Cranleighan himself, and has described this work as being something ‘his whole career has led to’.

It is really important that all young people look outwards and do not put themselves at the centre – Martin Reader

So, what was life at Cranleigh like for Nicholas? “Freedom with constraints,” he says. “My year spearheaded change from the Old Days to the modern with the leadership of David Emms. I’m beginning to think Cranleigh was as good as it got for the likes of me!”

We asked Nicholas how he came up with the idea for the memorial. “There is a burden of responsibility with a war memorial that perhaps weighs more heavily than with previous work,” he said. “That this was in a school helped to focus my mind and made the concept in some ways less constrained. I had an age group in mind and the freedom of working on a ‘private’ campus. This was not to be a ‘generic war memorial’.

“Of course the significance came with a complex set of demands. There was a need to cover certain aspects being a contemporary war memorial; it should be a memorial to Cranleighans who fell in war since 1865, but should also engage with students of today for whom the desire for peace greatly outweighs the ‘nobility of death in battle’. I wanted to convey leaving, vulnerability, service to the outside world and the futility of war. I have used bronze and stone carving in combination, with some quotations past and more contemporary. My intention was to avoid the generic memorial, rather to stimulate thought with a complex idea.”

My intention was to avoid the generic memorial, rather to stimulate thought with a complex idea – Nicholas Dimbleby

The school’s original memorial was removed in the 1950s and subsequently lost. The replacement was commissioned as part of their 150th anniversary celebrations and will be unveiled on 1 July 2016, the 100th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Marc van Hasselt, a previous Headmaster and one of the few surviving D-Day veterans, will unveil it.

We asked current Headmaster, Martin Reader, why the memorial is so important to the school.

“It is really important that all young people look outwards and do not put themselves at the centre,” he said. “Our project in Zambia, Beyond Cranleigh, is in partnership with a charity Beyond Ourselves, which summarises our objectives well. The memorial will be situated right at the front of the School and can be seen from inside the chapel where the school comes together four times a week. We hope that at times when they pass the memorial they will consider gratefully the sacrifices former Cranleighans made for them. We hope that it will encourage them to consider how they will serve others rather than themselves, strongly aware of the responsibilities that accompany their privilege. If that is the case even for a few, then this memorial will leave a very powerful legacy.”


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