Lancelot Steele Dixon memorial

Sited in Hay-on-Wye Cemetery, Herefordshire, is the most extraordinary war memorial I have ever seen.

It commemorates Lancelot Steele Dixon, “Lanty”, a young pilot who died in a flying accident quite close to where I live. I have been here for eight years but it was not until this week that I got round to visiting the memorial. It was quite a shock seeing it, it is very poignant, yet very uncomfortable to look at because it symbolises so much private grief.

Lanty was the son of Christine Sabatini, a highly gifted sculptress; he was the step-son of the famous historical romance writer Rafael Sabatini.

In April 1940, some time before the Battle of Britain started, Lanty was training to be a fighter pilot. His mother had a house at Clifford, near Hay-on-Wye, and on 9 April Lanty set off in a trainer aircraft to buzz Christine’s house.

He miscalculated and his aircraft crashed in flames at Winforton on the other side of the River Wye, killing him.

His grief-struck mother, who witnessed the accident, made this memorial to him that same year.

It shows Icarus after he flew too near the sun; his wax wings melted and he fell to his death.

Here, the beautifully sculptured wings show the straps which had attached them to Icarus’s shoulders. The melting feathers drape the body like a shroud.

The face is thought to be modelled on that of Lanty but of him as a boy rather than as a man of 23 years of age (“in the 24th year of his age”).

The words ‘Mater Luctuosa Fecit’ mean ‘His Grieving Mother Made This’.

The top corner of the memorial showing Christine’s name and the date. Photograph Kris Johnston, all other photographs Jennie Mack Gray.

The memorial could hardly stand out more from the other graves in Hay Cemetery. It is both deeply moving and rather disturbing, even creepy.

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