East London sculptor to capture veterans' memories

By Beth Allcock on June 10, 2014 1:00 PM |


"We always remember people who died more than the guys still alive now," says sculptor James Matthews, while chatting about his latest project focussed on veterans of the Second World War.

"With all this stuff going on for the First World War you've got the memories of those who have disappeared and with the later conflict, the list of survivors gets smaller and smaller every day.

"It almost doesn't matter who the veteran is, the feeling is the same.

"It's not about what role they played, it's the fact people were in this thing without any choice in the matter.

"It's not just about heroes, it's about everyone who was forced into doing their bit."

The 31-year-old is sitting amid the creative surroundings of the AB Fine Art Foundry in Langdon Park, a space he called home for four years.

We're joined by a smiling yet silent third guest, a recently-created plaster sculpture of his girlfriend Lizzie's grandfather and former Spitfire pilot, Warrant Officer Charles Pocock - the first model for his new collection.

The Bermondsey man said it was his own grandfather Jack Matthews, also a sculptor and a Second World War gunner in Bomber Command, who inspired his career and latest idea to create busts of the conflict's veterans.

After presenting the first installation to Mr Pocock to mark his 90th birthday, James said the pensioner was "thrilled".

He now hopes to harness the measurements and memories of nine further veterans to compile a collection that find homes in military museums.

A Crowdfunding campaign has been launched to secure the £20,000 needed for the seven-month scheme, with 20 days to be dedicated to creating each cast. Contributors receive a plaster polymer portrait.

"It's interesting, especially for young people, to see these old men. You make connections between real life and heroes," said James.

"You think about the people who have died. You think about people that came back from war and carried on their lives as if nothing had happened.

"They're just normal people who have got old with the rest of us - that's a nice human angle to it."

Go to indiegogo.com/projects/ww2-veteran-portrait-sculpture-project to donate.