Ban the Air Bomb!

Thanks to Chris Williams for pointing me in the direction of Patrick Wright's article at openDemocracy about the Anti-Air War Memorial at Woodford Green, Essex. I hadn't heard of this before. It was made by sculptor Eric Benfield in the form of a bomb falling through the air, and in June 1936 it was put up on land owned by none other than the socialist and feminist, Sylvia Pankhurst. At this time, she owned a pacifist and anti-fascist newspaper called the New Times and Ethiopia News.1 It was soon vandalised by fascists, and so was repaired and re-dedicated by Benfield and Pankhurst in July.

The Memorial itself was dedicated in ironic fashion to the politicians who had 'upheld the right to use bombing Planes' at the Geneva Disarmament Conference in 1932.2 Benfield later wrote that these politicians were boasting of their achievement, though unfortunately he doesn't name them. The Memorial's purpose was explained in New Times and Ethiopia News (5 May 1936) by the Countess of Warwick:

There are thousands of memorials in every town and village to the dead, but not one as a reminder of the danger of future wars. The People who care for Peace in all countries must unite to force their Governments to outlaw the air bomb. We must not tolerate this cruelty, the horror of mangled bodies, entrails protruding, heads, arms, legs blown off, faces half gone, blood and human remains desecrating the soil. We must not assent to this merciless destruction of men, women, children and animals.

The ghoulish (and not untypical) language aside, that's an interesting suggestion, that the existing memorials to the Great War dead didn't suffice as a warning of the next war. Today we probably tend to think of them as pacifist statements. But as Winter says, most war memorials were not in fact pacifist in intent, but about mourning.3 So, were there other anti-air war memorials, or was the Anti-Air War Memorial unique?


  1. I didn't know of Pankhurst's devotion to the cause of Ethiopia. This was just after the Italian invasion and conquest of that country, during which Italy bombed and gassed civilians. She moved to Ethiopia after the Second World War and is buried there. 

  2. Britain had opposed a ban on bombing, partly because of the needs of air control policies, but also because of worries that a ban would be ineffective because of the possibility of converting civil aircraft into bombers. See Bialer, The Shadow of the Bomber, chapter 1. 

  3. Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 95. 

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://airminded.org/copyright/.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *