War memorials part 3: the Arboretum and Bath Blitz memorials we never got

In his third article on war memorials, Bath Quaker sculptor Laurence Tindall recalls his own experiences responding to commissions.

Over the years I have been asked to design three war memorials. These were not looked for but arrived through my “letterbox” due to recommendation. One was for the National Arboretum Memorial in Staffordshire. This came through Julian Bicknell, an architect I had been working for on several other projects, who had been asked by them to submit proposals.

Given a map of this extensive park my response was to place around the lake family groups with their deceased loved one. One group a soldier having a picnic with his mates, another a sailor arm-in-arm with his lover, an airman playing French cricket with his children and wife and so on – as many as was required.

The idea was to show real people in real life and by subtext reveal the real sacrifice that serving in the armed forces entails, not just by the service person but by their family. I heard no more on this and to be fair, many of my designs have met with the same passing of tumbleweed and sound of whistling emptiness.

One such attempt ended in quite a different way but with the same effect. I was asked to design a memorial for the Bath Blitz. The site was just across from the Bath College next to Church House on Lower Borough Walls. Us Bath people all know the old employment exchange on James Street, now a cookware shop. This has been left as a pretty good war memorial with its shrapnel scarred facade, although, perhaps, not many people would realise it is a memorial because it has no official designation as far as I know.

I thought I could make a similar wrecked facade in the rather tatty space allotted for the memorial, and have an air raid warden and family carved in stone emerging from the doorway. On either side of this, within window reveals, plaques with all the names of the civilian dead. Horror! Was I suggesting that the citizens of Bath would ever cower in their cellars in the face of the Luftwaffe? There were letters to the Chronicle! Was I a third column undermining the moral fibre of our valiant wardens? How could a young fifty something whippersnapper like me know anything about the war?

Bath got the blitz, but it never got the memorial. The abortive proposal.

This so upset the committee attempting to put the scheme together that nothing further happened. I should have known, in fact I did know and should not have dealt in any form of reality concerning the war.

A plain stone with the names was all that was required and I feel I let the people down by trying to tell the story of what happened and spoilt their chance of getting a memorial.

In his forthcoming fourth article Laurence Tindall tells us his favourite war memorial, and rescues a lost masterpiece hidden in deep undergrowth.

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