Rookie veterans create beautiful sculpture to commemorate WWI
Remember the story of former commando Patrick McWilliam and the stone sculpture project for the award-winning Peace Garden at St Pol de Leon? The plan was to gather a group of ex-servicemen and women affected by post-traumatic-stress disorder to create a sculpture to commemorate the end of WWI. That plan has paid off in ways that even Patrick’s enthusiasm hadn’t anticipated.
None of the people who became involved had sculpted or worked together, and each arrived at the residential workshops at Trereife with the sort of baggage that doesn’t fit neatly into a suitcase.
“I wasn’t in a good place before I came here,” says Jason, aka Cupcake. “But working with my hands has given me time away from what’s in my head.” Cupcake, who was a medic in the Royal Navy, hadn’t left Plymouth for over three years and hadn’t been out of his flat after dark for over a year. “I’ve been in Cornwall so often this year they’re considering giving me residency!” he joked.
“I wasn’t in a good place before I came here,” says Jason, aka Cupcake. “But working with my hands on the sculpture has given me time away from what’s in my head.”
Cupcake explained that working with stone wasn’t as heavy-handed as you might think, at times sculpture requires a light touch and a lot of patience. And the results are extraordinary. What has emerged from these hefty lumps of Portland stone are exquisitely delicate artworks that not only honour those who have lost their lives through conflict, but the journey that all the team have been on.
Newly discovered skills in sculpture
“Everyone says don’t do hands!” laughs V. “So don’t ask why I’ve decided to do three!” The three hands that V has been working on are far from the sausages she says her trial projects turned out to be. They are delicate, finely honed but with tremendous strength and poignancy as they grip together in peaceful reconciliation.
V is a serving member of the Royal Navy and another member of the team, Anne, a veteran nurse who served for 18 years. Anne’s work shows the Union flag, gently draped over a square plinth with wave-like shapes on the side. One edge of the sculpture shows the shapes cross-hatched and chaotic, with the calm waters flowing by. On the other edge, it’s the wave that’s calm and the water cross-hatched and chaotic. They both show Anne’s hoped-for transition, of finding a calm place at the centre of the swirling noise, rather than internalising and holding on to the stress with life passing by, unseeing.
The art work is profound. Strong, solid in shape and structure, but also heart-breakingly fragile. It’s formed of three stone pillars, leaning into each other. On one is the three-hands grasping each other, on another a Tommy helmet and on the third, the words Peace and Pax. The flag draped over the wave etched plinth is separate, set apart but leading you in to what follows.
“It’s hard to believe when you look at what they have achieved that none of them came here with any sculpting experience.”
Patrick says he has been amazed at God’s provision. From the way the teams came together, worked alongside each other and collaborated until the final design emerged. “Everyone who has been involved has re-discovered their self-worth. It’s hard to believe when you look at what they have achieved that none of them came here with any sculpting experience.” More than just the act of creating, the nature of each residential workshop has meant that those involved have been able to share and support each other. It’s hard to imagine the life experiences these veterans have been through, and humbling to witness their determination as they craft these amazing pieces that will honour all of those who sacrificed so much for our peace today.
Provision also came in the most practical of ways from the yard in Portland where the stone came from. They have been so impressed with the work that Patrick has been doing that they have agreed to supply him with as many of their off-cuts he needs, for free. “It’s amazing!” says Patrick. “Without the stone we would have had nothing – or at least a lot less than we have now if we’d had to find a budget to pay for it.”
From stone carving to flying
Patrick is also a psychotherapist and is currently training to become qualified in micro-light flying. His intention is not only to help veterans through working with their hands, but also by re-discovering the thrill of flying. “Many ex-servicemen and women are adrenalin junkies!” he says. “Just because they’ve been injured doesn’t mean they stop yearning for the thrills they used to enjoy. By flying in tandem with them, I can help them to re-discover some of that joy.”
“Just because they’ve been injured doesn’t mean they stop yearning for the thrills they used to enjoy. By flying in tandem with them, I can help them to re-discover some of that joy.”
Who dares works
Patrick has also been working with people from the local ‘Who Dares Works’ scheme, a project to help anyone trying to get back into work. “When people work with their hands it’s so much easier to talk, there isn’t that direct eye contact when you’re side-by-side. Talking breeds confidence and really helps to break the cycle of loneliness and depression.”
The work going on at Trereife is inspirational and deserves to be shared far and wide. “It’s my dream for other places like this to open up across the country – there are so many damaged men and women, old and young, who just need space, opportunity and a chance to be heard. Sculpting alongside someone does all of that.”
The commemorative sculpture will be unveiled next Sunday in the beautiful Pol de Leon Peace garden, a place that has just been highly commended in the Church Times Green Health Awards.
There will be a service in the church at 10.30am, followed by the unveiling at 12.00pm. If you cannot make it then, please make time to see this extraordinary work or follow Patrick’s Wild Art Cornwall project on Facebook