history

World War I Memorial Soldier

World War I Memorial Soldier 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

This coming Sunday is Remembrance Day: a day to remember those who lost their lives in war.
We don’t take that sacrifice lightly, so it’s always an honour when Simon receives a war memorial commission.  Whether it’s a statue or a giant poppy, it’s an opportunity to both do his best as an expression of his own respect thankfulness. It’s also an opportunity to help others remember and be thankful. His best known example is probably the Airman at Highclere Castle. However, today, we’re going to revisit this World War I memorial soldier.

World War I Memorial Soldier, Astley Park

The Commission.

The World War I Memorial Soldier was commissioned by Chorley Council, and is installed in Astley Park. It is not their only tribute to those who died during war, and guests can take part in a  whole World War One experience which includes this Garden of Reflection. Estimates suggest nine to 11 million military personnel died during World War I. This soldier standing alone though encourages us to think not of the masses, but of the individual soldier who lost his life. The son, brother, uncle, friend.

World War One memorial soldier by Simon O'Rourke Chorley

The Soldier

Looking at this soldier, it is easy to see some of the cost of war. The slump of his shoulders, and slightly hunched posture speaks of a fatigue. Maybe a disenchantment. His disheveled uniform and minimal weaponry tells us of men ill-prepared for the horrors of battle. And his face makes it clear he has seen loss and pain. The weathering of the wood and imperfections that appear over time, only enhance this portrait. This is not a soldier freshly out of boot camp, immaculate and passionate about his calling. This is a man who has given up everything and seen too much. And this man, and the millions like him are what we remember, with thanks.

World War I soldier by Simon O'Rourke, Chorley

Lest We Forget

This World War One memorial soldier is only one of thousands of tributes around the country. We hope that as people look at this one, Simon’s skill in portraying this soldier’s story through sculpture will speak to them. That it will help people to think about what it is that was lost, not in terms of millions, but the cost to each family of ‘the one’.

Of course, we couldn’t JUST revisit this soldier. Another name for remembrance day is ‘poppy day’, so to finish, we naturally had to include some of the poppies he has made. Skilled as Simon is with human form, these sculptures have also helped to catch attention and capture beautifully the flowers which appeared in Flanders after World War I.

Poppy scultpure by Simon O'Rourke

Giant poppy outside wrexham museum by Simon O'Rourke

Giant poppy in 2014

If you are interested in having your own memorial carved by Simon, why not email us on [email protected]

Whether it’s a specific person or thing, or something general, Simon is able to use his skills, imagination, creativity and attention to history and detail to create something perfect for your tribute.

Queen of the South Legends Unveiled

Queen of the South Legends Unveiled 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Back in May we started sharing videos and photos of a statue of three footballers that Simon was working on. Five months later, we’re proud to see the statue of the Queen of the South legends finally installed and unveiled!

Queen of the South Legends statue by Simon O'Rourke unveiled in Dumfries

Queen of the South Legends Statue unveiled October 2019

The Commission

The statue was commissioned by The People’s Project and stands outside the Queen of the South stadium in Dumfries. The People’s Project exists to help rekindle community within Dumfries. It does this through practical projects, funding of community initiatives, and creating opportunities to remind people of the heritage of their town. This statue isn’t their first commission, and they have also restored or commissioned statues of Robert De Bruce, and Peter Pan.

This particular commission commemorates three of the legends of Queen of the South FC: Billy Houliston, Alan Ball, and Stephen Dobbie. Each player represents a different era, achievement and contribution to the club. To find out more about each player, visit http://www.qosfc.com/news-4765. We think it’s always inspiring to read about passion t,alent and dedication, even if football may not be your thing!

Stephen Dobbie with his likeness at the unveiling of the Queen of the South Legends by Simon O'Rourke

Current player Stephen Dobbie with his likeness at the unveiling

Making the Statue

This statue was always going to be a challenge. The original goal was to make the three life-sized players out of one piece of oak:

About to begin a project that will be a big challenge… And for once it isn't a dragon!!Three life size footballers in one log…

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Wednesday, 22 May 2019

If you watched the video, you would have seen Simon refer to a crack throughout the timber. That obviously meant he had to react immediately, and think about how to work with and around that crack. In the beginning this seemed to have a simple solution. Just turn the trunk upside down!

In addition though, he had to think not only about what that crack is like in the moment, but what would happen in years to come. It turned out that when he considered the Scottish weather, that crack was going to create some problems. Simon ended up having to cut out one player, and use a second piece of timber, as you can see in the next video. Every cloud has a silver lining though! Removing that player helped Simon overcome one of the other challenges in a 360° statue – reaching the backs of the other players!

An update on the footballers!!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Monday, 1 July 2019

Queen of the South FC statue in process after a player had been removed, allowing Simon to access the backs of the other players

The statue in process after a player had been removed, allowing Simon to access the backs of the other players

Creating a Likeness

As well as technical challenges, there was then the task of creating an accurate likeness. As we’ve mentioned in this blog, this means not only dealing with correct shape and ratio, but also the challenge of depth. In this case too, it also has to be true to life, and there isn’t as much artistic license. Especially in the case of a statue like this where the purpose is to honour people, Simon always wishes to capture them in a way which is accurate and tells a story of who they really are. For those who wonder how possible that is when using power tools, this comparison says it all!

Close up of Billy Houliston statue with one of the photos Simon worked from to create The Queen of the South legends

Billy Houliston statue with one of the photos Simon worked from

Creating Community – Not Just a Statue.

Part of the purpose of this statue was to commemorate the Queen of the South legends. It is has a bigger purpose that goes beyond this though.

The reason for commemorating these players is to remind the Dumfries community of their heritage. To remind them of town and community achievements they can be proud of. It reminds them of things they have in common like the love of a sport or a hero. It gives a focus for unity and remembering positive moments in their community. For the younger person looking at these players immortalised in wood, it gives something to aspire to. And for the older generation, it can bring about a sense of nostalgia and ‘the good old days’ that brings joy and encouragement. The kits from the different eras clearly show achievements across the years and history, and so it helps unite generations in a mutual appreciate of their team and its history.

Stephen Dobbie and club officials at the unveiling of the Queen of the South legends statue by Simon o'Rourke

Stephen Dobbie and club officials at the unveiling

And so, statues like this are more than just pieces of art to be admired. They also help unite, inspire, and promote community. Even the simple act of coming together for an unveiling ceremony helps create all these things.

If you are part of a town, club, society or community and would like to explore a similar idea, why not send us a message? As always, Simon is available on [email protected] to talk about your vision, hopes and the practical details.

Downton Revisited: The Highclere Castle Airman

Downton Revisited: The Highclere Castle Airman 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
The Visit

No, our blog title doesn’t refer to the movie released this weekend. We mean the real life setting for the series and movie: Highclere Castle. The castle is part of Lady and Lord Carnavon’s estate and is located in Hampshire, over 200 miles from the fictional setting. But for the fans of the series who enjoy a good tear-jerker, today’s blog about visiting the Highclere Castle Airman is just as good!

You may remember that last year Simon and Dan worked on a memorial for the Highclere Estate. For those who need a refresher, the project was a sculpture of a WWII airman and a series of benches that were unveiled at the Highclere Heroes weekend. They were made as a tribute to the airmen who lost their lives in the eight plane crashes that occurred there during WWII.  The benches even featured actual wreckage from one of the B17s that crashed on the estate. This weekend Simon and Liz had the privilege of visiting to see how the Highclere Castle airman is doing.

Keep reading to find out what that entails for Simon, but also a wonderful ‘plot twist’!

Simon and Liz O'Rourke at Highclere Castle, home of his airman sculpture

Simon and Liz at Highclere

Highclere Castle Airman with the house in the background

The beautiful setting for the airman and benches

The ‘Check Up’

Simon looks out for a few things when checking on a sculpture. One is obviously any damage that needs repairing. Thankfully there is no damage to either the airman or benches. That is, except for the inevitable bird deposits! He also reports that the Sculpture is weathering nicely. It’s already turned a lovely silvery grey colour, which was the intention.
When Simon re-visits a sculpture, he also looks at where the wood has opened up. When he is carving, he has to calculate where cracks will appear as it ages, and take this into account. Using wood in the right way can ensures it doesn’t split across the face or important parts of the sculpture as the wood dries. Again, thankfully all is well!

Highclere Castle Airman by Simon O'Rourke

The airman

Highclere Castle Airman by Simon O'Rourke

Reflecting on the project

The estate is a beautiful place to  enjoy the British countryside, and the Highclere Castle Airman is located in a particularly tranquil spot. As Simon and Liz were able to sit and enjoy both countryside and sculpture, they took some time to reflect on the project.

The O’Rourkes still feel extremely honoured to have been involved in this memorial. They hope that people will be able to enjoy the sculpture and benches in this setting for years to come. They’re also still extremely grateful to Lord and lady Carnarvon for commissioning Simon and Dan, and for their hospitality to them. As at the original unveiling,  it was very moving for them to be in a place so many sacrificed their lives for others, and to be part of a project that makes that history a visible and ‘living memory’ for others.

Simon, Liz and Dan weren’t the only ones moved by this lovely tribute commissioned by Lady Carnarvon. Several news outlets picked up on the sculpture, but also some of the stories behind it. The BBC article focused on the story of Len Nitti; a serviceman who miraculously survived a crash. The Daily Post focused on the project itself, as does the Daily Mail who also reflect on how the commission was an example of life and art imitating each other, and mirrored the final scenes of Downton Abbey.

B17 Benches, part of the Highclere Castle Aiurman memorial by Simon O'Rourke and Dan Barnes

The ‘B17 benches by Dan Barnes featuring shrapnel from crashed planes

The 'B17 benches by Dan Barnes featuring shrapnel from crashed planes. Part of the Highclere Castle Airman memorial

The ‘B17 benches by Dan Barnes featuring shrapnel from crashed planes

And then…..

And now for that beautiful plot twist!

Simon and Liz met with families of the airmen who lost their lives as part of the project – a very meaningful part of the Highclere Castle Airman story for them. So much so in fact, they are still in touch with one of the families today. There was one family that they didn’t get to meet at the time though. The family of William Dutton were the only family who were unable to make the unveiling weekend last year. 2nd Lt Dutton died on May 5th 1945 in the B17 Flying Fortress. In fact, it’s parts from his plane that are in the bench legs!
Life is full of surprises though. Completely unexpectedly,  Simon and Liz got to meet Nancy Dutton Sanders this weekend – William Dutton’s sister!

Simon O'Rourke meets sister of deceased Highclere Castle Airman

Meeting with Nancy Dutton Sanders

It added a poignancy and beauty to the visit. As always, meeting the ‘real life people’ behind the stories, makes all of us feel afresh a thankfulness for those who fought in wars for our freedom. For Simon and Liz, meeting families and seeing how much it means to them to have their loved ones honoured, is also a privilege and a joy, and adds real purpose to a project. How much more fun when it is totally unexpected!

This really ‘made’ the visit. We only hope that people viewing Highclere on the Big Screen this weekend get as much of a happy ending!