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 in uniform with injury – courtesy of the family
Percy Metcalfe – courtesy of the family

Wakefield-born Percy Metcalfe (1895-1975), the memorial’s sculptor, had only been at the College for nearly two terms 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 been found yet 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. But there is a possible explanation for its eventual replacement:  someone may have noticed that a few of the thirty-two names included were wrong. This has nothing to do with poor spelling: to date research has failed to find evidence of seven of those listed as studying at the College, and six of them do not re-appear on the later memorial.  Interestingly, however, 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,  except for an “E” instead of “F” for Wigan Jones.

Percy may have completed the memorial during or soon after his last term at the College, some time in July 1921, with the possibility that it was displayed in the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition of that year.  He 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.