WHEN it comes to doing something unusual using art Castleford is always in advance of the game.
The memorial to the five soldiers killed in Afghanistan is a case in point. This is the first public memorial to named English soldiers to appear in a UK town and it is very much a community memorial. Its sculptor Harry Malkin, himself a professional artist who was born and bred in Airedale, made it and the fundraising was led by the Backhouse family but it is not a parochial art work. This is world art.
Five soldiers died at the same time and therefore five soldiers from across the country are remembered in this sculptured wall. To see the mothers who gave them birth standing together and acknowledging their deaths was very moving.
What impressed me as I stood there was the Backhouse family’s approach and how memorials to the dead vary. The Americans do not recognise their dead, there is no coffin procession like the one troops have in Wooton Bassett, and definitely nothing like the Airedale memorial in the USA.
Other war memorials have been found in Castleford and in Yorkshire but these were to Roman veterans. The Airedale wall is part of a long tradition.
Although I am usually cynical as far as wars are concerned, when I looked at the memorial wall I felt very different. Mrs Backhouse, said to her family, friends and neighbours: “Do not let my son James be forgotten. I cannot be comforted for the pain is too great, so help me build his memorial for I cherish his memory.”
We have a duty to stand beside this piece of communal art and think about why these young men died and of their families’ dignified grief.