From a distance, you might be forgiven for thinking that the lonely figure seated on a distant park bench is a living person, lost in solitary contemplation. All around her, nature is in full spring bloom and the froth of pink and white May blossoms feels like an unlikely counterpoint to her stillness, silhouetted in dull metallic grey against the emerald green grass, in the continuing rainfall of this chilly May morning.
The “Lady In The Park”, designed by sculptor Andy Edwards, has been sitting here since Remembrance Day 2014, in commemoration of author and pacifist Vera Brittain (1893-1970) who was born nearby.
It is a deeply affecting work of art, depicting Vera in her auxiliary nurse’s uniform, a study of grief as she reads a formal letter informing her of the death of a loved one, and she seems paralysed by shock. Over 880,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom alone died in the 1914-18 war, and the moment depicted here was repeated with horrible frequency in homes across the country.
The figure is often given flowers, ribbons and other small tributes; today she wears a garland of pompoms in the blue and yellow colours of Ukraine, a woollen poppy at her throat, and her arms are heaped with bunches of bluebells, which are drooping sadly in the rain.
Beneath her feet are engraved some of her words, which read thus:
“I sat in a tree-shadowed walk called The Brampton and meditated on the War. It was one of those shimmering autumn days when every leaf and flower seemed to scintillate with light, and I found it very hard to believe that not far away men were being slain ruthlessly…it is impossible, I concluded, to find any satisfaction in the thought of the destruction of men whether they be English, French, German or anything else. (it) seems a crime to the whole march of civilization.”
Written in 1914.
Her visceral reference to “25,000 slaughtered Germans, left to mutilation and decay” in the original has been omitted, for some reason. Even now, the utter horror of wars past is being censored, which is deeply troubling. I’m not sure Vera would have approved.