He sits on his bench in his overcoat, cloth cap pulled slightly down, gazing out to sea. His walking stick is loosely held in his left hand, his right arm draped casually over the back of the bench. It looks like a favourite spot along Scarborough’s North Bay.
This is an astonishing, giant, sculpture in rusting steel. It has a kind of serenity and, up close, the texture of the steel is amazing. Even without the title, this would be an arresting piece of art. It is based on a former miner from County Durham who, as a soldier shortly before his 24th birthday, was one of the first allied troops to enter Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany in April 1945. They found more than 60,000 prisoners, most of them seriously ill, and thousands of unburied corpses. Freddie Gilroy and the Belsen Stragglers represents ordinary people pulled out of ordinary lives because of war, who involuntarily experienced extraordinary things and whose lives were profoundly affected as a consequence. The inscription on the sculpture’s plaque says:
“They said for king and country,
We should do as we were bid,
They said old soldiers never die
But plenty young ones did.”
Freddie Gilroy died in 2008. But the story doesn’t end there. The artist, Ray Lonsdale, loaned the sculpture to the town for a month, but local resident Jakki Willby began a campaign to keep it in Scarborough. Out of the blue, local pensioner Maureen Robinson donated the £50,000 needed – and Freddie Gilroy and the Belsen Stragglers is now a permanent feature on North Bay.