South Ribble Borough Council had proposed erecting a sculpture to commemorate the so-called “Battle of Bamber Bridge” in 1943, when violence flared between White American military police officers and Black soldiers stationed at a base in the town. By the time it was over, one soldier was dead and seven other military personnel had been left injured.
The council intends to install a stainless steel structure – and accompanying information sign, recounting the event – on a grassed area opposite Ye Olde Hob Inn at the junction of Station Road and Church Road. The hostelry was at the centre of an initial fracas that led to the fatal shooting.
However, the authority’s own planning committee has deferred a decision over whether or not to grant permission for the memorial after concerns were raised over its appearance – and whether it was an accurate reflection of Bamber Bridge.
John Rainford, who has lived in the town for more than 40 years, told a meeting of the committee that he would “struggle to recognise” the skyline that is proposed to form the backdrop of the sculpture. He also said that the chosen materials were more “akin to something you would see at the entrance to a retail park”.
“I find it quite cartoon-like and not particularly appropriate for the occasion.
“There is one opportunity to do this – let’s do it right. It’s a great project, I wholly support it, but the choice of materials, the design and the layout need to be looked at again,” said Mr Rainford, who also claimed that the proposed shape of the piece would mean it would only be seen fleetingly by people driving by.
His concerns echoed those previously raised by fellow resident Derek Rogerson, who first suggested a memorial to the incident ahead of its 75th anniversary back in 2018. Mr. Rogerson even commissioned local artist Tom Cookson to design an image to act as a centrepiece, but a different design was ultimately proposed by the council.
Having heard from Mr. Rainford – who said that he and other locals had outlined their concerns during a public consultation into the proposal – committee members coalesced around his call for more thought to be given to the project.
Cllr Phil Smith suggested that a series of designs be presented to the public for them to vote on their preferred option, while Cllr Gareth Watson – himself a sculptor – said that there was a wide choice of other materials that could be used.
Planning case officer Chris Sowerby said that the design was inevitably “subjective”, but that a deferral would allow “a conversation” to be had with the council regeneration department that had proposed the sculpture.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr. Rogerson, editor of the hyperlocal website the Bamber Bridge Bulletin, said he was “over the moon” that there was now an opportunity to redesign the memorial.
“When I put the two designs in the Bamber Bridge Bulletin, there was overwhelming support for Tom Cookson’s piece, which residents felt was more representative of what happened in 1943.
“Loads of people also got in touch asking, ‘Where is that supposed to be?’ – and saying they didn’t recognise it.
“I’m glad the council are putting up a memorial, but not something as non-descript as what’s being proposed.
“This is not about glorifying the event, but a reminder of what happens when bigotry takes command,” Mr. Rogerson said.
In 2019, Tom Cookson told the Lancashire Post that he had sought to “mimic” wartime propaganda imagery in his design, which shows a White military police officer and Black soldier standing on a Bamber Bridge street, divided by a pole bearing the American flag. The caption beneath reads: “Side by side we stood, not always seeing eye to eye”.
“The houses in the background are on Station Road and I tried to capture that orangey colour which you get on the bricks of properties of that age,” explained Tom, who grew up in Penwortham and studied at Cardinal Newman College.
The council’s proposed sculpture would feature what planning papers describe as “a Bamber Bridge skyline, Union Jack and USA national flags and the unit insignia of the 1511th Quartermaster Truck Regiment”.
The Battle of Bamber Bridge occurred on 24th June, 1943, when soldiers from that regiment – who were based in the town – were drinking with British troops and civilians in Ye Olde Hob Inn. The regiment was almost entirely made up of African American troops, as the US military was segregated along racial lines at the time.
Passing military police attempted to arrest one soldier, claiming he was improperly dressed and without a valid pass. As the White police officers left following an argument, a beer was thrown at their jeep – an incident which later led to a clash on Station Road in which shots were fired and a Black soldier wounded.
Rumours spread that military police were shooting Black soldiers, later fuelled by the arrival of an improvised armoured car with a large machine gun at their camp. In turn, Black troops armed themselves, left their base, and in a confused confrontation in the dark, Private William Crossland, a Black soldier, was killed. Five other soldiers and two military police were injured.
A court martial convicted 32 African American soldiers of crimes including mutiny and rioting. However, their sentences – ranging from three months to 15 years – were all reduced on appeal, with the use of racial slurs by military police officers considered to be mitigating factors.
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