St Clement Danes, an ‘island’ church in the Strand in London, is thought to be situated on a previous church founded by the Danes in the ninth century; it is named after St Clement, patron saint of mariners. The other island church is St Mary-le-Strand and they are both situated on islands in the middle of the road. The building was completed to a design by Sir Christopher Wren in 1682 but was badly damaged by the Blitz of London during the Second World War, and it was only restored in 1958. There is some dispute at to whether this is the ‘Bells of St Clements’ in the nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’ or whether that church is St Clement Eastcheap.
The church is the Royal Air Force Church mainly as a result of an appeal for funds for the rebuilding after the war. The Welsh slate floor of the church is engraved with the badges of over 800 RAF groups (stations, squadrons etc), and there is also a memorial to the Polish airmen who died in service during the war.
Along the aisles are ‘shrines of remembrance’ – illuminated cases which display the Books of Remembrance for those who lost their lives in service to the country. There are eleven books displayed; the first book, nearest the altar, contains the names of those who died before the RAF came into being. Books two to nine have the names of those who lost their lives in the second World War, book ten contains the names from VJ day to 2013, and the eleventh book is from April 2013. The pages are turned every day by a turner that looks a little like a military sword (see on the left in this photo).
In my book The Art and History of Calligraphy (published 2017) I feature one of these pages with names written by the great Sheila Waters (se right). Sheila was one of a handful of the best scribes in the country, including Dorothy Mahoney, who took part in this immense project supervised by Alfred Fairbank. Sheila said: ‘I wrote a lot for the St Clement Danes’ Roll of Honour. It amounted to about 33,000 names over a period of six years, during which I had two children so it had to be fitted in with changing nappies and feeding babies!’ Her, and the other scribes’, precise rhythmic script is a fitting memorial to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.