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Second World War Bas-Relief Plaque by William McMillan, C.V.O., R.A., 1944
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Second World War Bas-Relief Plaque by William McMillan, C.V.O., R.A., 1944

Measurements: Overall: 30cm (12in) x 20.5cm (8in)



Ceramic plaque depicting an advancing British infantryman in battle dress, equipped with 1937 pattern webbing and .303 inch No.4 rifle with fixed bayonet, against a background of barbed wire, arcing lines and twin engined aircraft overhead. Contained within its original oak frame and accompanied by a photograph of McMillan at work in his Chelsea studio on the original matrix for the present plaque.

The present plaque constitutes the original design for the moulded bakelite plaques that were presented to local authorities in recognition of successful fund raising for the 'For Freedom War Savings Campaign' (an extension of the 'National Savings' campaign run for the government by Sir Robert Kindersley and used by the state to fund budget deficits and finance the war effort. The bakelite versions were  manufactured by De La Rue Plastics and carried the inscription 'Presented by the War Office to the Local Savings Committee in Appreciation of their Success in Salute the Soldier Week'.

William McMillan R.A., C.V.O. (1887-1977) was born in Aberdeen and trained at Aberdeen’s Gray's Art School and the Royal College of Art. He volunteered for war service in 1914 and was commissioned from the Artists’ Rifles into the 5th (Service) Battalion Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry with whom de served briefly on the Western Front. He later produced the designs for the British War Medal and the British Empire version of the Victory Medal, of which over six million of each were struck.

From 1929 t0 1940 McMillan was Master of the sculpture school in the Royal Academy Schools. In 1933 he became a Royal Academician. Operating from the studio he maintained for most of his working life in Glebe Place, Chelsea (now a blue plaque site) he produced a string of public works between 1940 and his retirement in 1966. These include the bronze group of Nereid and Triton with Dolphins (1948) for the Beatty memorial fountain in Trafalgar Square, which was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and exhibited at Burlington House in 1940; bust of Earl Beatty (1948) inset on the north wall there. King George VI (1955) in Carlton Gardens, Sir Walter Raleigh (1959) in Whitehall (relocated to Greenwich in 2001), pioneer airmen Alcock and Brown (1966) at Heathrow. In 1938 he completed the bronze portrait statue King George V for Calcutta. (now relocated to the front entrance of the Temple of Fame at Barrackpore).

He was elected an associate member of the Royal Society of British Sculptors in 1928 and a full member in 1932. He was appointed Companion of the Victorian Order in 1956. He was also made a freeman of Aberdeen, and received an honorary doctorate of law. from Aberdeen University. His Oxford D.N.B. entry describes him as an ‘elusive and very private person, fond of a daily routine that took him to the Chelsea Arts Club for lunch and a game of billiards. He was a tall and extremely handsome man, the quizzical expression the chief outward sign of a very dry Scottish sense of humour that led him in younger days to be involved in organizing the Chelsea Arts Ball.’  In retirement he was elected an Honorary Life Member of the Chelsea Arts Club, where he lunched almost daily until his death. A few days before his 90th birthday in 1977, he was the victim of a violent street crime and died shortly afterwards in hospital.

Obituary in The Times, 28 September 1977.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Artists’ Rifles, Regimental Roll of Honour and War Record.