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Birkbeck launches hunt for lost memorial that commemorates students who died in World War II

College offers voucher to the first person who can locate or reveal the fate of missing 1.2 metre Ralph Beyer stone sculpture that depicts seated woman in mourning.

Birkbeck, University of London is on the hunt for its war memorial which was created by German-born sculptor Ralph Beyer to commemorate the lives of the thousands of Birkbeck students who were killed, injured or bereaved by the Second World War.

The sculpture, which is thought to have been created in the 1950s, is approximately 1.2 metres high not including its plinth. It is carved from Warwickshire Horton Stone and depicts a woman sitting in a sorrowful pose. Her limbs and body are disproportionally larger than her head, which is thought to suggest grief and mourning for her mother. It is not known when it went missing.

Sculptor, Ralph Beyer, who died in 2008 aged 86, fled from Nazi Germany arriving in England with his family in 1937 when he was 16 years old. His mother later returned to Germany during the war and was killed in Auschwitz. Unable to speak English, Beyer found work with the artist Eric Gill. After the War, he became friends with famous art historian Nikolaus Pevsner, who lectured on art and architecture at Birkbeck and who supported the commissioning of the sculpture. Beyer went on to become a famous artist in his own right.

The memorial debuted to mixed reactions. Criticised for not looking like a memorial nor naming students killed during the War, the sculpture was defended by those who commissioned it claiming that too many men and women had given too much during the War.

Joanna Bourke, Professor of History who has researched and written a history of Birkbeck ahead of the College’s 200th anniversary in 2023 said: “It is a mystery what happened to the sculpture. It is an important part of Birkbeck’s past and it commemorates the contribution that our students made to the Second World War so we would very much like to know what happened to it. We have not been able to find any records about its removal.”

The fate of the sculpture is not known and the College is launching a hunt to find it or let us know of its fate. We’re offering the finder a £20 Amazon voucher for the first person who can find the sculpture or tell us where it is.

To enter, please send us a contemporary picture of the sculpture, accompanied by any information you may have about its whereabouts or if it has been destroyed, information about its fate. Please email this to with your name and the subject line “Missing war memorial”. The competition closes Sunday 23 August 2020.

You can read more about the missing sculpture in an article written by Professor Bourke at on our blog site.

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