The statues and standing of memorials has recently been in the news, particularly in the United States with controversy surrounding statues erected to commemorate the leading generals of the Confederacy, Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
Here too, we are required to regularly defend the remembering of historically significant figures such as Bristol’s great patron and philanthropist Edward Colston, whose statue currently stands on the city centre.
Such monuments are important, not just because of who or what they represent, but also for the role they serve in stimulating interest, discussion and debate amongst each generation over their subject matter.
Avon Fire and Rescue Service (AF&RS) has just run a consultation on where to move a much loved more modern piece of work, a memorial to firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty, which was commissioned in the wake of 9/11 terror attack on New York.
This fine statue has stood outside the site of the services’ former headquarters at Temple Back since 2003, and has been left in place until now, following the administrative relocation of staff to offices to the police HQ in Portishead.
Senior management asked people’s views on where this firefighter memorial should go as its current location is soon to be redeveloped.
One contentious option under consideration is to put it outside the new headquarters in Portishead, twelve miles from central Bristol.
Once again, I am motivated to ask, whatever possesses decision-makers and those in authority to even come up with such an ill-conceived plan in the first place?
No wonder many of the fire brigade rank-and-file members are up in arms over such a move. I agree with campaigners that this is an important memorial which keeps the sacrifice and memory of the fallen in the public eye.
To hide it away in a remote and inaccessible place is totally unacceptable.
Let us not forget that Fleur Lombard, the only female firefighter to die on duty in peacetime, gave her life in this city just 21 years ago. Indeed, my own maternal grandfather, Frederick Gillam, was killed by enemy action during the Bristol Blitz while he was working with the firemen in the infamous Good Friday bombing raid of 1941.
On the same evening, the family home in Bedminster was completely destroyed by bombing, which also crushed the building’s Anderson shelter, breaking both legs of my grandmother and nearly killing my mother (who was an infant at the time).
Like thousands of blitzed Bristolians, they owed their very survival to the brave fire fighters of Bristol and those who dug many thousands of our fellow-citizens from the ruins of their homes and other bombed buildings.
The least we can do now to remember these heroes and heroines is to urge AF&RS to think again on where to put this sculpture. Perhaps a place could be found near to the ruins of St Peter’s Church, in Castle Park, which also stands as fitting memorial to all that was lost in the bombing of our city during World War II?
In his seminal work, ‘1984’, George Orwell recognised the importance of statues, when he wrote:
“… every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped.” We would do well to remember this warning and oppose those who seek to demote or devalue the significance of such cultural symbols.
At the time of writing, I understand thousands have signed a petition against the Portishead proposal and urge people to make their voices heard.
The official AF&RS consultation closed on Monday, October 9.
Richard Eddy is a Conservative councillor for Bishopsworth.