I first came across the work of the sculptor Herbert Tyson Smith (1883-1972) in a roundabout way.
I was struck by the majestic war memorial on Hamilton Square in Birkenhead, because alongside the set-piece Portland stone cenotaph by Lionel Bailey Budden (1887-1956), embellished with Tyson Smith’s sculptures, lies a phalanx of simple black marble slabs placed by local community groups to remember their own heroes – those who were killed at Dunkirk, in the Blitz, in Normandy, in the Burma campaign, Korea, numerous regiments including the Welsh Guards and the Irish Guards, “all shipmates who crossed the bar in the service of their country”, Merchant Navy seafarers and Merseyside aircrew.
Somehow, these recognisable cohorts are more immediately moving than the huge list of 1,293 names of the individuals killed in the First World War. The names of those who died in the Second World War are recorded in a Book of Remembrance in the Town Hall.
The original plan was to locate the Great War memorial on the north side of the square, but by popular demand the statue of William Lever, the founder of Birkenhead, was moved to the west so that the war memorial could stand foursquare in front of the Town Hall portico.
Tyson Smith did the sculpture for other civic war memorials for Widnes (1921), Accrington (1922), Southport (1923) and Fleetwood (1927), but his reliefs on the Liverpool cenotaph outside St George’s Hall, unveiled in 1930, are the most powerful.
The cenotaph is a simple, shaped block of Stancliffe stone, designed like the Birkenhead memorial by Lionel Budden, carrying two 31-foot bronze relief panels of haunting poignancy.
The panel facing St George’s Hall shows ranks of grim-faced soldiers, each face distinct and individual, marching relentlessly from left to right, above a quotation from Ezekiel 38:15 – “OUT OF THE NORTH PARTS A GREAT COMPANY AND A MIGHTY ARMY”.
On the other panel, facing Lime Street Station, Tyson Smith depicts those left behind, the mourners, of all ages, men, women and children, in contemporary dress, some bringing wreaths and flowers. Underneath is a verse from the second book of Samuel 19:2 – “AND THE VICTORY THAT DAY WAS TURNED INTO MOURNING UNTO ALL THE PEOPLE”.
It’s impossible to walk past this monument and not remember what it stands for.