Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the British Museum were all hit during the Blitz, but in a supreme bit of irony, the Albert Memorial, that monument to Victorian excess, came through relatively unscathed. Erected by Queen Victoria after Prince Albert died (along with monuments in Edinburgh, Manchester, and pretty much any other place people would let her) the monument has large statuary groups of the four continents, complete with topless girls and elephants, camels, bison, and cattle; friezes of history’s architects, poets, painters, and sculptors; commemorations of Victorian achievements in manufacturing, commerce, agriculture, and engineering; and a statue of Prince Albert seated on a throne reading the catalogue from the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851.
It also has a golden cross on the top, which was painted black during the zeppelin attacks of World War I and left that way for World War II, but no other part of the memorial, including Albert, was sandbagged. Odd, since nearly everything else in London had sandbags piled around it and since in one raid the cross and one of Asia’s breasts was knocked off.
Or perhaps not that odd after all. Londoners despised the memorial, and legend has it that at one point they put large arrows around it, directing the bombers to the monument. As Ernie Pyle wrote, “Londoners pray daily that a German bomb will do something about the Albert Memorial… As the British say, they could bear its removal with equanimity.”
So of course it survived. War is nothing if not ironic. Or, in Churchill’s words, “War is full of surprises, mostly unpleasant.”