Article - Monuments

The windows of my offices in Westminster look out over the Embankment and the corner of the Palace of Westminster itself that serves as the Speakers House. Normally, this pleasing prospect of Barry's stonework and the living river beyond is turned into a bustling metropolitan scene by the constant to and fro of cars, bicycles and pedestrians criss-crossing from Westminster Bridge to the Embankment and vice-versa.

However, one day last week, I was surprised to see that all the signs of movement had disappeared - almost as if a home-movie had unexpectedly been replaced by a still photograph.

Upon inspection, it turned out that the reason for the cessation of activity was that the embankment had been closed in order to enable the Queen to unveil the new monument that has been erected in the gardens outside the Ministry of Defence in honour of those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Regardless of ones' views about the utility or otherwise of these campaigns, it is of course entirely fitting that the nation should express in this way its gratitude for the sacrifices of those who took part. And it must have been a particularly moving occasion for Prince Harry - who was, I understand present at the unveiling and on whom, as it happens, I last laid eyes outside the canteen on a dark night at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.

Of course, it isn't only in the capital city that we celebrate such things. I was walking, recently, in the hills just beyond Maiden Castle, looking out at the Hardy Monument that dominates the skyline above Portesham. Captain Hardy would not have recognised the technology of modern warfare; but I suspect that the feelings of those who fought with him at Trafalgar were not far removed from those of the helicopter pilots like Prince Harry, who took their lives in their hands in Helmand. Those feelings constitute the golden thread that links the monument overlooking the Thames with the monument that looms above the Chesil.

That same thread links these memorials to our warriors with the statues rightly erected to celebrate those of our countrymen who ventured on the high seas in conditions of great danger - not least, Admiral Sir George Somers, now resplendently present in bronze above the Cobb in Lyme Regis.

Nor is it only by the monuments erected on behalf of a grateful nation that we remember these adventurous heroes. Sir Walter Raleigh, Britain's greatest seafarer, built his own monument in 1594, in the form of the 'new' castle at Sherborne. What was once new has of course now become old - as will happen in due course to the monument on the Embankment.