The formal descriptions available online (Coflein: NPRN: 419295; IWM National Inventory: 17894) fail to convey the full impact of the form, spatial arrangement and landscape location of this striking multi-phased white marble war memorial honouring the dead of the village of Rhosllanerchrugog (Wrexham borough) from the First and Second World Wars. The memorial has a particularly striking set of interacting spatial and material dimensions, situated as it is on a hillock on the south side and overlooking the B5426 as it runs from Johnstown uphill into the heart of the village.
The memorial focus comprises a central statue of a soldier on a plinth, his head bowed, his hands on the butt of his rifle which rests on his boot. This memorial commemorates the century of men from the village who died in the Great War and whose names appear arranged alphabetically upon the vertical faces of the plinth. The inscription looks as if it was originally only in English, with the Welsh tagged on above, on the pediment in smaller text.
Flower-holders are situated on the sides of the three-stepped base.
Framing the memorial to the Great War are a pair of white gravestone-like memorial tablets. In their positioning and their colour, they complement but are ancillary to the Great War’s Fallen. They list 53 war-dead and 7 civilian casualties of the Second World War. They appear marble with the backs bearing a faux-stone effect I’ve seen on some mid-20th-century gravestones. The spirals at the top of each narrow side affords the impression that the names are written on a scroll.
This trio of monumental components are set upon a striking mound framed by a pair of flag-poles, reached by three short flights of steps from the surrounding hillock. This creates a distinctive spatial arrangement, for the memorials face out over a steep slope and the road, so that anyone gathering at the monument itself for a memorial service is actually facing the fear of the memorial. I cannot recall ever seeing an arrangement like this before, where people gather behind the sculpture.
Beyond this focus, there are a series of more recent commemorative dimensions that take an arboreal form. There is an arc of trees around the back-edge of the hillock, commemorating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, making the First and Second World War memorials the frontage for a broader patriotic commemorative space honouring royalty and the nation.
A further tree commemorates the 90th anniversary of the Brownie Movement (2004).
There is a bench, notably without a memorial plaque.
A supplementary memorial feature of the monument’s setting is an essential component given the steepness of the hillock: I refer to the white-painted walled steps with double handrail, facilitating access to the memorial from the road.
The most striking and disturbing dimension, however, are the most recent additions. These were presumably commissioned for the First World War centenary and mirror another manifestation of vegetal gigantism I’ve seen at Wrexham’s war memorial in Bellevue Park. This is because, on the steep slopes between the First and Second World War memorials and the road, a series of needless box-shaped laurel hedges have been planted affording the sense of medieval crenellations or modern military installations, partly obscuring the memorials above. If these were not odd enough, jarring with the other arboreal, monumental and sculptural dimensions, the hedges provide the framing for a centrally placed giant poppy without a stem. The poppy, now the ubiquitous symbol of Armistice Day commemoration of the First World War, and through association with other UK conflict commemorative environments, is rendered squat to the slope by this giant manifestation. It reminds me in this form as akin to one of those giant fly-eating plants from Amazonia that stinks of carrion. This is not all: for poppy gigantism is joined by a spectacle I haven’t encountered before: giant metallic daffodils (daffogiants?)! Presumably to declare the Welshness (given the daffodil’s association with St Peter and St David as the national flower of Wales) of the memorial, three giant triffid-like beasts (‘driffids’?) bring a mildly disturbing, almost comedic, metallic monumental vegetal frontage to an otherwise proud and solemn, complex and three-dimensional topography of conflict and patriotic commemoration.
I wonder how long the metallic plants will last? To quote Genesis ‘The Return of the Giant Hogweed’: “Still they’re invincible, still they’re immune to all our herbicidal battering”. I truly hope not long, since they are a further indication that some strange decisions have been made in creating gigantic monumental versions of vegetal ephemeralia (poppies and other flowers) in commemorating the First World War’s centenary. Its almost as if the medium – floral, arboreal and other vegetal symbols – for commemoration has become an end in itself. For me, that misses the whole point.