Should you take your eyes from the chaotic traffic flow as you approach Hyde Park Corner from Park Lane you cannot but help noticing a statue of a naked rather lithe young man with his back towards you.
The Machine Gun Corps Memorial was, in 1925, at the time of its unveiling a controversial subject, for it is David the biblical figure who defeated the giant Goliath.
[F]lanking David, himself depicting vulnerability are two genuine Vickers machine guns encased in bronze wrapped in laurel leaves. The subject would be apt for the Machine Gun Corps who in World War I nicknamed the Suicide Club, and the casualty rates make for grim reading, having lost over 13,000 during the Great War with another 48,000 injured or missing.
The sculptor of the Machine Gun Corps Memorial was Francis Derwent Wood whose contribution to World War I went far beyond the Hyde Park statute. Too old for military service Derwent Wood volunteered to serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps. After a time spent near the conflict he came back to London and was based at the Third London General Hospital on Fitzhugh Grove, the building is now better known as the Royal Patriotic Building.
Such were the numbers of wounded returning from the trenches of World War I a railway station was built enabling the swift discharge of wounded bound for the adjacent hospital. Inevitably the numbers returning the Third London General overflowed and field tents were erected across Wandsworth Common providing temporary wards.
As a consequence of modern warfare and improved nursing, soldiers were returning from the front line with severe facial injuries, some had literally lost half a face yet miraculously managed to survive.
Affectionately known as the Tin Nose Shop the Masks for Facial Disfigurement Department was set up within the Third London General Hospital by Francis Derwent Wood for the creation of lightweight custom made masks designed to hide the wounds and blend in with the undamaged part of the face.
Each taking weeks to create, painted in realistically coloured skin tones and with slivers of tin foil to replicate eyebrows and moustaches they were works of art.
Due to financial constraints and the sheer numbers of men requiring masks his Wandsworth studio was wound down in 1919. The masks had given back the wounded men’s self esteem and Francis Derwent Wood would receive many letters of thanks.
Francis Derwent Wood would go on to design many war memorials around the country and Canada, but his greatest contribution to Britain has been lost. The masks lovingly created in his studio were so cherished by the recipients that it is believed that all were taken to their graves enabling the wearers to meet their Maker with dignity.
I am indebted to my colleague View from the Mirror for much of the information included in this post.