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Ypres - World War 1 Peace Monument | Denise Axelsen Artisan Blacksmith

Ypres – World War 1 Peace Monument

I made the realisation a couple of years ago, that life is too short and passes by too quickly, and therefore I needed to start making memories.

So I decided to travel and go after anything connected with blacksmithing. I was lucky enough to go to a massive Blacksmithing event in Ypres in 2016 to be part of a team of hundreds of blacksmiths and farriers worldwide. We were to take part in a weeklong event to make panels designed and led by Master blacksmiths–all to commemorate a new World War 1 Peace Monument set in Langemark Poelkapelle, opposite the German War Cemetery.

The panels were all made in the main market place opposite the ‘In Flanders Field Museum’ in Ypres, Belgium. The monument stands at over 7m tall and weighs 12 tonne, the metal Peace Monument for the 21st century features the evocative image of a single Flanders poppy surrounded by a field of 2016 steel poppies handcrafted by blacksmiths and farriers worldwide.

The Peace Monument was funded by generous donations and sponsorship by companies and private individuals worldwide.

The particular panel I worked on was designed by Patrick Pelgroms from Belgium. I had met Patrick before at a previous event in Melbourne so it was great to meet up again in his part of the world. His panel was called ‘Liberated.’ I have included the story about his design in his words.

“ I’m from Belgium, Flanders fields. I should know the stories about the battlefields. The thing is that the veterans never told us a thing about it, the stories weren’t told. So I looked at the internet! What I’ve found is trench feet, shock shell. You’ve to look it up on youtube “shock shell”. Friends corpses, eaten by rats. I couldn’t find a decent expression! We civilians were liberated. But the soldiers who are liberated are those who had a sudden death. Still children have to pass the panel and have to learn something about history. A grenade named shrapnel, explode in the air. A cloud of lead balls was coming down “shooting rabbits” My design, called “Liberated”. Will be a panel that children can pass and not be speechless. Stories can be told on a decent way.  The hand in the panel will be cast in bronze“ The hand of God. The bronze, comes from a museum. Old detonators from “Flanders fields” shrapnel detonators. I want to recast them. (totally save) One of my former students of the Royal Academy will make the shape of the hand, he’s really an artist about it. The hand will explode, one beam will pierce the soldier -his chest. The soldier, is hiding in the corner of the panel. Covering his face and identity. Waiting to be “Liberated”. Hopeless! ”

All the panels were truly beautiful and the stories behind them were incredible.

I listened to a few lectures in between when I was forging and the stories would bring you to tears hearing the reasons they were doing them. The team of people that carried on working behind the scenes and have actually got the whole cenotaph in place now, and all the railings have been galvanised and they’re all in situ and it’s finally finished. It is quite magnificent and it was absolutely spectacular to be there as part of it. It was one of those lifetime events that I decided that I’ve got to make some memories and that’s one I really wanted to go to. I think my husband’s quite broke now, but you know it was great to be there, it really was, and it was like a reunion for me because I hadn’t seen so many people from the UK since I left in 2005. And so, to go back and see so many people were wonderful and also when I was attending the ABANA Conference in America earlier on in the year, I met up with Kate Dineen who is a very great friend from years ago and she was also in Ypres with me, and we paired up and shared a room which was fantastic. I think being with Kate and meeting up with all the Baba members was just amazing and meeting blacksmiths from all around the world. I mean every blacksmith I’ve ever met, bar a couple that don’t belong to any organisation, are incredibly friendly and generous and sharing and caring and it’s just amazing to get together all go round with permanent grins on our faces, just admiring everything that everybody’s doing and it is just incredible.

There were lots of public local people and those that had come from a couple of hours away when they knew that the Ypres event was on and they were just so grateful and honoured and teary when they had read the stories, each story was printed above each workstation on the day. Everybody visiting had got the ‘bug’ when they would see our excitement. I think all the Blacksmiths were incredibly infectious to the public and were very happy to share everything, including the last post which was on every evening, and we were so near because we were right in the square near to where the last post was and attending and the Welsh Choir came over to sing. It was just very very moving and just the whole atmosphere and the whole time and just getting together with the other blacksmiths in the evening and eating meals/drinking, it was just brilliant, and it was just amazing and the weather was amazing and just the organisation that went on behind the scenes, just all came to fruition and it just went incredibly smoothly and it was just fantastic.

Sadly, our team steward Richard Jones, also a great blacksmithing friend of mine from my early years in my blacksmithing career, and an absolute stalwart of the British Blacksmithing world, and an award winner many times over from the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths, and a beautiful soul inside and out, developed a brain tumour and passed away very quickly not long after the Ypres Event. I am so glad to have met him.

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