January 24, 2015

Commemoration of an Ordinary Man

Quoted from the sign in front of this sculpture in Scarborough, on the northern beach.
"Fred Gilroy was born i South Hetton, County Durham on 13 May 1921 the son of a miner at the local colliery. One of six children, life was hard in the poor mining community, with Fred and his siblings wearing "hand-me downs" and often going to school without shoes.
Fred followed in his father´s footsteps and became a bricklayer at the local colliery, building walls to prevent water from flooding the mine, maintaining the shafts and buildings above ground.
Hel also joined the Territorial Army, and when war came in 1939 he was immediately called up into active service. Fred´s life change in a way he could never have envisaged.
For the majority of the time he was a Gun Aimer in the Royal Artillery but later towards the end of the war, he became a Regimental Police Officer. Although he survived the fighting while many of his closest friends died, fate was still to deal a cruel blow.
On 15 April 1945, the British 11th Armoured Division took the surrender of a concentration camp 30 miles south of Hamburg, known as Bergen Belsen. They were met by the stench of rotting bodies which they could smell from more than three miles away. The camp was riddled with typhus, dysentery and tuberculosis. More than 20.000 naked and emaciated corpses were discovered and of the 50.000 inmates remaining 20.000 were seriously or critically ill, so much so that despite recieving food and medial treatment, a further 13.000 died after its liberation.
One month after its liberation, Fred "celebrated" his 24th birthday within the camp. It was a day he would remember and grieve over for the rest of his life. When interviewed by a newspaper journalist in the 1980´s he confessed he had sat and cried on every birthday since that fateful day.
At the end of the war, Fred was asked to join the Palestinian Police Force, but declined because he was still aware of poverty at home and needed to get back to help support the family again in his role as a miner.
Fred never married, although he stepped in to help his sister-in-law and his nephews when his brother, Nelson, died of a heart attack at the age of 47. Despite fighting right through the war, he still ended up being the last surviving member of his family and died of cancer in November 2008.
Fred was an ordinary man. Like millions of other soldiers from all over the world he was drawn into a worldwide conflict where he made friends only to see many of them die. He fought an enemy he rarely saw and in those six years created memories he would rather have forgotten. He was a kind and loving man who made friends easily and who displayed warmth that Ray Lonsdale has captured in his sculpture "Freddie Gilroy and the Belsen Stragglers"."
The artist describes the sculpture as "a tree dimensional freehand steel sketch". The sculpture has its own website.

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