In 2011, a gentleman called Harry Parkes arrived at my workshop with a sketch of a memorial that he had in mind to commemorate the Bevin Boys that he wanted to erect at the National Memorial Arboretum. Harry explained that the Bevin Boys were young British men conscripted to work down the coal mines during the 2nd world war. They endured terrible working conditions and were often accused of shirking the war effort by going down the pit when the truth was that they had no choice, they were selected entirely randomly. It took until 2008 for them to be awarded a medal for their service. Harry Parkes wanted to see a Bevin Boy memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire and he made this his aim. I looked at Harry’s primitive sketch and gave him an idea of how much it was likely to cost.
12 months later, Harry returned, funds secured and ready to proceed. Together we visited a Kilkenny limestone quarry in Ireland and we selected the stone for the work. It would be a craggy black stone, akin to coal. Nothing polished or shiny, Harry insisted upon it. With Harry’s ideas as inspiration, I set about carving the Bevin Boy Memorial into the tough Irish Limestone, the memorial incorporated the Bevin Boys logo, a description of the Bevin Boys story cut into the rough stone, a seat and a plaque surrounded by carved mining objects. The memorial was installed in 2013 and was dedicated by HRH the Countess of Wessex in a ceremony which saw an emotionally overcome Harry Parkes receiving a consoling hug from the Countess of Wessex. This had been the conclusion of Harrys long journey. It came with National press coverage that finally gave the Bevin Boys work national exposure. Since then Harry has featured on a Radio 4 documentary that follows his story from the very beginning.(www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05vzzyr). Harry is an amazing man who has worked so hard to see that the dwindling numbers of Bevin Boys finally receive acknowledgement for their heroic war efforts.
This week, Harry was awarded the British Empire Medal in the New Years Honours list. Harry, you fully deserve your award. Many many congratulations.