My parents were always concerned that being at prep school in a beautiful 18th century Adam house in Ireland, followed by Stowe would leave me with visually expensive tastes and delusions of grandeur. That may be so but they also left me with a legacy of what is beautiful; buildings and landscapes and a sense of proportions that great architects can imbue in a youngster. Added to that the tutelage of art master Bill Dady (Former Staff) and I was left with a desire and passion to make sculpture.
Early influences of Old Stoic David Wynne (Grenville 44) and fellow sculptor Enzo Plazzotta greatly determined my direction toward figurative sculpture. This added to Dady’s encouragement to concentrate on the human figure; it’s movement, feeling and energy, ultimately lead 40 years on to my largest and most important commission to date: the D-Day Normandy Sculpture, commissioned by the Normandy Memorial Trust to commemorate the 22,442 who died in the D-Day and Normandy campaign.
I was first approached by Architect Liam O’Connor. During early discussions we both agreed it was important to avoid the ‘Action Man’ image which has crept into many modern memorial sculptures. Instead I aimed to create a sculpture that encapsulated the true essence of comradeship, endeavour, leadership and energy. The movement and composition had to convey the raw emotion of the moment in order to do justice to all those soldiers who took part in the Normandy Campaign, especially the 22,442 who died.
So ensued a two-year studio project that saw the skeletal armature of three running figures transform first into clay figures, and then, via the lost wax process, into three meter bronze soldiers running up the beach. Dressed in combat uniform, webbing and equipment and carrying a Sten Gun, Bren Gun and Lee Enfield .303. This YouTube video shows a timelapse of the making of the sculptures:
These were transported from the Basingstoke foundry by lorry to the site above Gold Beach at Ver Sur Mer in Normandy where they were mounted on a 3-meter granite plinth. Ironically, they took the same route as the D-Day invasion. Then came 6 June 2019 and the culmination of two years of hard work.
As the sun rose on the 75th Anniversary, the sculpture was unveiled in the presence of veterans, Prime Minister, Theresa May and President, Emmanuel Macron. From where we stood you could look to the north east and see the remains of the Mulberry Harbour at Arromanche, with Gold Beach directly in front of us. I could imagine waves of ships and landing craft as I stood next to veterans who had landed on the beaches 75 years ago at the exact hour. It was an emotional and humbling time. To be reminded of what these men in their late teens and early twenties had experienced was a sobering and thought provoking moment. My father was the same age when he commanded a Motor Torpedo Boat in the Channel.
To hear the Highland Lament on the bagpipes followed by the Marseillaise and God Save the Queen on a clear, blustery dawn brought tears to many of our eyes. The poignancy was enhanced by the veterans saluting their fallen comrades and the laying of the wreaths by President Macron and Prime Minister May.
It was undoubtedly an enormous privilege for me to have been invited to create this memorial and one for which I will be eternally grateful.
David Williams-Ellis (Temple 77)