The memorial: Percy Metcalfe and context

RCA Memorial – image by Corinne Noble
Percy Metcalfe’s maquette for RCA memorial – courtesy of the family
Percy Metcalfe – image courtesy of the family
Percy Metcalfe in uniform with injury – image courtesy of the family

Wakefield-born Percy Metcalfe (1895-1975), the memorial’s sculptor, had only been at the College for just over a term when he enlisted on 3 March 1915.  A year later, in July 1916, while serving with the Royal Field Artillery in France, he received a severe leg injury that required evacuation back to Britain, away from the battlefields, to a period working in munitions at the National Shell Factory in Leeds instead. Discharged from the army in December 1918, he seems to have returned to the College the following year.

No record has yet been found of any commission for a permanent memorial to those students who had died in the war. There is, however, a photograph in a student magazine of 1921 of a conventional wreath-style tribute put up in the College on Armistice Day 1920 – and then presumably taken down. Sadly now lost, there is no suggestion that this was considered temporary at the time.  Interestingly, the College may well have been aware of an alternative: Percy Metcalfe had already prepared a design for a College war memorial tablet after his return to his studies in 1919, and this had been included in the Royal Academy of Arts’ War Memorial Exhibition held in the late autumn of that year.

There is a possible mundane explanation for the wreath’s eventual replacement: someone may have noticed that a few of the thirty-two names included should not have been. To date research has failed to find any evidence that at least six of those listed studied at the College. Their names do not re-appear in the list below Percy’s bas-relief.  Interestingly, one significant mistake does recur, implying that the same listing was being referred to – an ‘H’ instead of ‘W’ for William Liley Batty’s initials.  This and other transcription errors have been corrected, while a new one was made with an “E” taking the place of “F” for Frederick Wigan Jones.

It is not known when the memorial plaque was first put up in the College. Percy may have completed the memorial itself (rather than the design) while at the College or soon after he left, in July 1921. As it is not referred to in the magazine article featuring the wreath, it seems possible that the memorial was not placed until at least the following year, if not even later.

Percy went on to work as a studio assistant to another former student, Charles Sargent Jagger, and later became famous in his own right, particularly for his elegant coin and medal design, as well as his work with Ashtead Pottery.

RCA Memorial – image by Corinne Noble
Detail of RCA Memorial – image by Corinne Noble
Transcription of the names as they appear on the RCA WW1. memorial.