Creator’s ashes in foundations of Warwick sculpture

If you’re driving through Warwick these holidays, 130km or so west of Brisbane, this fantastic tribute to the region’s horses is worth a stop. Not only is is magnificent to see, it’s also the resting place of its designer.

It’s hard to miss. The wonderful sculpture is at the town’s entrance, on the eastern side.

After campaigning for the sculpture for 14 years, sadly John Simpson died just one month before the foundations were laid. But not only is his vision and years of work captured in the metal which pays homage to the Light Horse troop, farmers during World War I and Warwick’s famous horse sports, John Simpson is in the sculpture itself.

Horsepower: Warwick’s Story of the Horse

Some of John Simpson’s ashes are cast in its foundations.

Some of sculptor’s John Simpson’s ashes are mixed in the foundations of the Horsepower: Warwick’s Story of the Horse. Photo via: https://www.facebook.com/Warwickhorsesculpture/

A plaque on the sculpture, written by his daughter Fiona, reads:

“John had a dream to give the community and massive town entrance culture that could be used as an educational tool for generations and be a traffic stopper. His vision was to create a memorial to the relationship between horse and man. He wanted the sculpture to help citizens, visitors and tourists to celebrate the historic contribution of horses in the region, to pay homage to the mighty pioneers who opened up the land so that the horsemen could flourish and to appreciate how the horse is an integral part of life on the Southern Downs. Standing 15 m tall and spanning 23 m wide this was more than an artistic piece designed and drawn by John, it was also an engineering challenge. 

“Over the course of the project John Drew on all his strength, courage and determination to see it completed as he continually face health issues. Sadly he lost his fight on 26th February 2019, just one month shy of the foundations of this magnificent sculpture being laid. His ashes are buried in its foundations.

“Remembered as a passionate community member, a dynamic art teacher and loving husband, father and Grandfather, John Simpson was a man that inspired, a man worth knowing. “

Fiona Simpson (daughter), on behalf of the family.
A plaque on the monument tells the story of John Simpson.

In John’s words: “This is my legacy to art, my legacy to the equine industry, my legacy to history.”

This world class monument is a salute to the relationship between man and horse.
Because most funding grants were rejected, the local community raised the $180,000 needed to commence work on the Sculpture. Utilising expertise from the local community including steel fabricator peel tribe, John’s vision has become a reality for all to see.  It took 14 years for John, with the support of Henry Osiecki and his local community, to fund the monument.
Horsepower: Warwick’s Story of the Horse. Horses played such in important role is years gone by – the Cobb and Co coach, ploughing fields, the Light Horse, for example.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$8 is payable for overseas orders). She enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.

The foundations of a monument in the Queensland town of Warwick contain the ashes of its designer. 
John Simpson worked for 14 years to make his "traffic-stopper" dream a reality. Sadly he died one month beofre the foundations were laid.
Blogger and author Lisa Herbert is a death literacy advocate.

The photo that changed it all: a funeral, a pact and an outlandish dress.

At the start of most books there’s a dedication page. It includes the name or names of people or things who have inspired the author.

Here’s what appears on The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan‘s dedication page. These names, the people and their work, hold a special significance for me.

The dedications at the front of The Bottom Drawer Book include Scottish soldier Private Kevin Elliott.

It’s been 10 years since Private Kevin Elliott was killed in a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan. He was on foot patrol when he was killed in an explosion caused by a rocket-propelled grenade in the Babaji district, Helmand province. He was 24 when he died on 31 August 2009.

Private Kevin Elliott of The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland.

I learned about Pte Elliott’s death when I saw a photograph in an online media article. The image stopped me and my tracks and I found myself staring at it for ages. I clearly remember where I was and what I was doing when I saw it. The incredible photograph by Jeff J Mitchell said so much but left me wanting to know more.

Sobbing in a Scottish cemetery was Barry Delaney, a mate of Pte Elliott. The grief in the photo is palpable and the dress is hard to miss. You see, the year before the friends had made a pact. One would wear an outlandish dress to the funeral of the other. It was a novel but effective way those two friends approached a really tough subject. They had a conversation about their mortality, they expressed their fears, THEY TALKED ABOUT IT, and they drank vodka. And this really resonated with me (the conversation, not so much the vodka).

Inspired by the strength and friendship between these two mates, I delved deeper into the story and eventually contacted Pte Elliott’s family.

In subsequent correspondence with his grandmother, I learned Pte Elliott had also told his family what he wanted if he was killed on active service. He told them he wanted to be buried wearing the jersey of his favourite football team and white socks. His wishes were followed.

DUNDEE, SCOTLAND – SEPTEMBER 15: Barry Delaney kneels weeping as mourners gather at Barnhill Cemetery in Dundee, Scotland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Best mates

“Kev was like my brother – we would have done anything for each other,” Barry Delaney told the Daily Record newspaper.

We said that whoever died first, the other one had to wear a pink dress with green spots to the funeral – and we shook on it. It was mainly his idea and the more I think about it, I’m sure Kevin knew something was going to happen.

Barry couldn’t find a pink dress with green spots so he chose a green one and added pink socks to make the outfit look sillier.

He told the newspaper: “It’s what Kev would have wanted.”

Barry Delaney as the coffin of Private Elliott arrives at Barnhill Cemetery.
(Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images)

Who was Private Kevin Elliott?

By all accounts he was full of mischief, a bit of a lad. His commanding officer called him a “lovable rogue”.

He didn’t really want to do that tour of Afghanistan and was due to quit the army. He’d already served in Iraq and Northern Ireland, but he didn’t want to let his mates down so he agreed to do one more tour.

Captain Harry Gladstone said, “I remember talking to him shortly before we left Inverness to deploy to Afghanistan in March. He was dressed in civilian clothes, having been de-kitted, and about to walk out of Fort George back to civilian life when he decided to sign back on. “

“When asked why he signed up again he simply said, ‘I didn’t want to miss the boys’.”

A video made by Pte Elliott’s family after his death.
Via Youtube theSandy2005

Full of cheek

Private Peter Fenton, Fire Support Group gunner called him cheeky:

But you couldn’t get annoyed with him. He was always able to get a laugh in any situation. He would bend over backwards to make sure everyone was all right. “He was hilarious, confident, loyal, and above all charming.

Private Kyle Russell, Fire Support Group gunner, said:

A story typical of Kev was on having a room inspection in Fort George, the Platoon Sergeant opened the fridge to see it full of beer. He told Kev to get rid of it; Kev proceeded to drink the contents of the fridge in front of him and continued for the rest of the night.

“Kev was kind and generous – he lived for the moment. If you asked for a fag, he threw you a packet of twenty. He was a terrible singer but my fondest memory of him was sitting in the back of a vehicle screaming out the words to ‘I got you babe’ at the top of his voice.”

Lance Corporal Ian Bruce, Fire Support Group gunner, said that Kev would stir people up:

Kev was a poser – he loved his body – but underneath he cared deeply about the other people in the platoon. He would try and wind people up but you couldn’t get annoyed with him, he was too nice. He wanted to be active the entire time.

He loved being in Afghanistan and had booked a holiday to Australia for our return. He also wanted a pair of white socks to walk down Dundee High Street pulling the birds! We will all miss him badly.

As part of the incredible Fallen Heroes Project, this hand drawn portrait of Pte Kevin Elliott was given to his family by artist Michael G. Reagan. Michael has drawn thousands and thousands of portraits of soldiers, free of charge.  He says, “Each portrait is intended to show our love and respect for these Heroes and their families”.

The legacy

The photo of Barry Delaney in that lime green dress planted a seed in me that, several years later, sprouted The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan. I wanted others to be like Pte Elliott and Barry Delaney. I wanted people to have that tough conversation about their mortality and funeral plans, in whatever form that may take.

With the fantastic help of The Royal Regiment of Scotland, I was able to get in touch with Pte Elliott’s family. I wanted them to know that their son, grandson, brother, uncle and nephew had inspired something positive and I wanted them to know that, even though I was a complete stranger on the other side of the world, I was thinking of him.

Five years after Pte Elliott’s death, I sent the family my book. Written on the dedication page was “Private Kevin Elliott”. I didn’t know if it was the right thing to do so I asked the advice of the army’s bereavement officer. He gave a positive response.

The response

I foolishly opened the card and read it on the steps of the Tamworth Post Office. It was so beautiful, I openly cried.

The card sent to me in 2014 by Pte Elliott’s grandmother is one of my most treasured possessions.

I didn’t really expect a reply but Pte Elliott’s grandmother, Joan T Humphreys, sent me a delightful thank you card.

An anti-war campaigner, Joan has been a vocal member of the Stop the War campaign.

While I will keep most of the contents of that card to myself, including the list of novel things that Pte Elliott wanted put in his coffin, I was so glad to know his family appreciated what I’d done.

Mrs Humphreys wrote, “Your book is delightful. Although it is a sombre subject, myself and many of my family and friends laughed many times during reading it.

“Thank you for sending the book and thank you for honouring Kevin by your dedication to him,” she wrote.

One of many

Private Kevin Elliott wasn’t the only soldier killed in that ambush on 31 August 2009. Fellow Black Watchman Sergeant Stuart Millar also died. Newly married and with a young daughter, he was 40 years old.

As you know, thousands upon thousands of people have been killed at war and their families live with their loss every single day.

Let’s not forget them. Lest we forget.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$9 is payable for overseas orders). She enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.

Lisa Herbert holds The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan.
Lisa Herbert has authored The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, a informative and amusing funeral planning guide.
Kranji War Cemetery

A mass grave and tributes to our war dead: Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore

I’d never heard of Kranji War Cemetery, but I’m glad I stumbled on it during a visit to Singapore.

One of the first graves I noticed was that of Aboriginal soldier Private J Knox. Private Knox died of illness as a Prisoner of War in Changi in August 1942. He served in the 2/26th Battalion, a Queensland unit that contained several Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. They fought in Malaya and Singapore but were captured when the British Empire garrison surrendered. The prisoners endured shocking slave labour conditions, and several Indigenous men were among the many Australians who died in captivity.

More than 20,000 Australians served, with around 1,800 lives lost in battle during the fall of Singapore. Around 15,000 were captured as Prisoners of War.

Private J Knox lies in Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore
Private J Knox lies in Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore. He died as a Prisoner of War six-and-a-half months after allied troops were ordered to lay down their arms on February 15, 1942. His grave is in the first row on the left as you enter the cemetery. The flowers and flags laid on his grave just two days prior are a poignant reminder of the ongoing effects of war. A hand-written card said he was remembered by “his mob back in Australia”.

The Kranji War Cemetery is on the outskirts of Singapore. The Japanese landed just a few kilometres from the cemetery’s site on 8 February 1942, at the mouth of the Kranji River. The following night they launched an attack. Fighting continued for a few days, much of it hand-to-hand combat. Japanese troops had the numbers and lots of support from the air. Allied forces never stood a chance.

Names with no graves, and graves with no names.

The Kranji War Cemetery is the final resting place of more than 4,400 casualties of World War II. Among those graves are 850 without a name, only “known unto God”.

There are 850 graves of unknown soldiers at the Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore.
There are 850 graves of unknown soldiers at the Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore.

And then there are walls and walls and walls of names – names of land troops and airmen who don’t have graves. I can only assume many of those 24,000 casualties were left where they fell as they attempted to stop the Japanese during their surprise invasion through 200km of Malayan rainforest. Many would have been Prisoners of War who died in captivity, most notably during the construction of the Burma-Thailand railway. There is a memorial at the Kranji War Cemetery to the twenty-four THOUSAND people who have no known grave. (I needed to spell that out as I am still trying to come to terms with that number. Each of those men had families. Can’t. even. fathom).

The memorial to the 24,000 soldiers and airmen with no known grave.
The memorial to the 24,000 soldiers and airmen with no known grave. The wreaths were laid two days prior to my visit during the 75 year commemorations of the Fall of Singapore.
This memorial wall is littered with the names of Australians.
This memorial wall is littered with the names of Australians. There are many Commonwealth nationalities on the walls at the Kranji War Cemetery.

Mass hospital grave

There’s another memorial at Kranji War Cemetery which really put my heart into my throat. It relates to a mass grave that is located on hospital grounds in Singapore.

The Singapore Civil Hospital Grave Memorial at Kranji War Cemetery lists the names of 107 Commonwealth casualties buried in a mass grave alongside 300 civilians.

The Singapore Civil Hospital Grave Memorial
The Singapore Civil Hospital Grave Memorial commemorates 107 Commonwealth servicemen buried in a mass grave on hospital grounds. There are 300 civilians in that grave as well.

You see, during the last hours of the Battle of Singapore, hundreds of wounded civilians and servicemen taken prisoner by the Japanese were taken to the hospital. The number of subsequent fatalities was too great for the hospital and authorities to handle. The deceased were put into an emergency water tank that had been dug on the hospital grounds prior to the war. This mass grave holds more than 400 people.

After the war it was determined that identifying those within was an impossible task. So the grave was left undisturbed and enclosed, consecrated by the Bishop of Singapore. The site is marked by a cross, put there by military authorities.

The Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore
The Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore. The walls of the large structure in the background have the names of 24,000 servicemen who don’t have graves.

The Kranji War Cemetery isn’t far from the Kranji train station so I can highly recommend you pay it and our fallen soldiers a visit the next time you’re in Singapore.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. The second edition is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage. Lisa’s passion is telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.

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Lisa Herbert is a journalist and author.