Monday, March 28, 2011

The Stalingrad Sword

The Stalingrad Sword was made to commemorate the sacrifice of the Russian people in the Battle of Stalingrad of 1942 which marked a turning point in the war with Nazi Germany.

It was presented to Marshal Joseph Stalin by Winston Churchill in the presence of US President FranklinD. Roosevelt during the Tehran Conference on 29 November 1943.

The personal project of King George VI, the 50 inch sword was made by the Wilkinson Sword company, and its 36 inch double-edged blade was inscribed with the words "To the steel-hearted citizens of Stalingrad, the gift of George the Sixth, in token of homage of the British people" (with the same in Russian on the reverse).

The lettering was the work of M[aurice] C. Oliver (1886 - 1958) (third from the right), acknowledged as the foremost letterer of his day and the 'father' of modern English calligraphy. Oliver taught at the Central School of Art and the Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute. He worshipped at St Jude's and was a member of the PCC at the time the sword was made. We have several examples of his lettering in the church including the list of vicars at the back of the church and the guide to Starmer's paintings in the Lady Chapel.

Before it travelled to Russia the sword was displayed in Westminster Abbey. Evelyn Waugh evokes the scene in his Unconditional Surrender (1961) (part of the Sword of Honour trilogy):

"The civilians were shabby and grubby. Some munched 'Woolton Pies'; others sucked cigarettes made of the sweepings of canteen floors. Bombing had ceased for the time being but the livery of the air-raid shelter remained the national dress. As they reached the abbey church, which many were entering for the first time in their lives, all fell quite silent, as though they were approaching a corpse lying in state. The sword they had come to see stood upright between two candles, on a table counterfeiting an altar".

Waugh, who grew up in North End Road and worshipped with his father at St Jude's, was less than impressed with the sword which symbolized for him the modern, irreligious world and the spectre of communism.

The 2001 film Enemy at the Gates, set during the Battle of Stalingrad, stars Rachel Weisz who grew up on the Suburb. The title evokes Psalm 127: 5/6.