Bamber Bridge wartime memorial still on track

An oil painting by artist Tom Cookson will be the main feature of the memorial (image courtesy of Tom Cookson)
An oil painting by artist Tom Cookson will be the main feature of the memorial (image courtesy of Tom Cookson)
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A memorial to a forgotten piece of Bamber Bridge history could be erected in the town – if funding and a suitable location for it can be found.

An artwork has been created to commemorate the so-called Battle of Bamber Bridge, an incident during World War Two during which violence flared between white military police officers and black soldiers stationed at a base on Mounsey Road.

American soldiers were drinking in Ye Olde Hob Inn just before the incident in 1943 (image: Google Streetview)

American soldiers were drinking in Ye Olde Hob Inn just before the incident in 1943 (image: Google Streetview)

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The confrontation was sparked when officers in command of the regiment operating in the town – all but one of whom were white – came across a group of black soldiers drinking in the Ye Old Hob Inn. After the officers directed military police to arrest one of the troops, a fracas broke out, later leading to a running battle through the town which continued over several hours.

By the time it was over, one soldier was dead and seven other military personnel were left injured.

Derek Rogerson, a local resident and editor of hyperlocal website the Bamber Bridge Bulletin, suggested that the incident merited a memorial when he first learned of it just before the 75th anniversary of the battle last year.

A local artist even produced a painting, free of charge, which could form the centrepiece of any display – and the proposal was put to South Ribble Borough Council’s “My Neighbourhood Forum” for the area. But Derek feared that the idea may have been derailed by comments on social media suggesting that the memorial would be “glorifying war”.

“I didn’t see it that way at all,” Derek explained.

“In fact, the idea was to remind people of the consequences of racism, bigotry and intolerance – and to show that there is no place for it in a civilised society.

“I think it’s important to remember that event for all the right reasons – and there were more comments online in favour of it than against.”

However, the Local Democracy Reporting Service can reveal that the plan is still on track and will be formally considered by the My Neighbourhood Forum at a future meeting, having now been through a preliminary process and placed on a “wish list” of small-scale projects which the committee can fund.

Bamber Bridge West ward councillor Caleb Tomlinson – who originally presented the idea to the forum earlier this year – said the delay was just a case of “the wheels of local government moving slowly”.

“The cost of this would be minimal and it would be a fitting way to mark what was a really important part of Bamber Bridge – and US military – history.

“Far from glorifying war, we should remember that this incident hastened the end of racial segregation in the American military.

“Prior to that point, Black troops were Black troops and White troops were White troops – and they were totally separate. But after the Battle of Bamber Bridge, the generals decided to integrate them all – and it boosted morale amongst the Black troops,” Labour’s Cllr Tomlinson added.

The proposed memorial has won cross-party support, with Conservative My Neighbourhood Forum member Barrie Yates stating that he would be backing the idea when it is brought forward for formal consideration.

EVOKING THE WARTIME ERA

Artist Tom Cookson says that the painting which he has produced for the memorial is “sitting on a table” just waiting for a decision on how and where to display it.

The former Cardinal Newman College student from Penwortham, who now works in the graphic design industry in Manchester, created the poster-style painting which will form the basis of the commemoration.

He says that he tried to “mimic” wartime propaganda imagery in the artwork, 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,” Tom explained.

“I put my own colours into it and it took me about three weeks to do it in my spare time. But I had to stop myself from tweaking it for too long.

“It had got to the point where it would have lost the feel if I had added any more to it,” Tom said of his oil-based creation.

He added that he would be thrilled to see the piece finally in place in Bamber Bridge.

Derek Rogerson, who came up with the idea, said that he would like to see the painting displayed and protected within a stone plinth with a suitable inscription reminding passers by of what unfolded on their streets during the Second World War.