The Portsmouth Royal Naval Memorial stands tall over the promenade on Southsea Common, as it has since 1924.

Facing the harsh salt winds and battering rain that sweep in from the sea for almost a hundred years, its purpose is to honour and bear the names of almost 25,000 men who lost their lives at sea in the two world wars.

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In 1953, when the site was expanded to include the names of soldiers lost in the Second World War, four sculptures were added by the great artist Sir Charles Wheeler. Wheeler was not deemed fit for service in the First World War, and instead spent the war modelling artificial limbs for war amputees.

The statues are made of Portland Stone, which is the material used in most of the CWGC headstones, and will also form the steps and paving in the garden.

During the second World War he was the only sculptor given full-time contracts by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, producing busts of admiralty figures for remembrance of the war. His works can still be seen at the Bank of England, Trafalgar Square, and the MoD at Whitehall.

Over the decades, as the memorial stood like a watchman over the sea, the elements had taken their toll and the erosion was severe. The Commission, now a century old, is taking a much more conservation-based approach to the ongoing care of the cemeteries and memorials, and the aged appearance of these statues shows the challenge faced.

In 2001 the Commission decided to perform a major renovation of the whole site, and the four statues – representing the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and the Maritime Regiment of the Royal Artillery – were replaced after nearly half a century of duty. They were moved into storage at a site in Cambridgeshire, where they waited to be given a new purpose.

Each statue

weighs around

2 tonnes.

The statues stand approx 7 feet tall.

I felt that it was important, among all of the symbolism that exists in the design for this garden, that there be a true human face at the centre of it. Because they are not just numbers to be counted and names carved in stone, they are lives that were given.

So when the CWGC told me that these statues were available I jumped at the chance to use them. I had the tremendous honour and pleasure of being able to select two of these statues to become a part of our garden at Chelsea, where they will stand guard once more, serving as a human reminder (albeit one carved from stone) of the price paid for freedom.

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