Freddie Gilroy and the Belsen Stragglers

Last updated on July 9th, 2024 at 01:58 pm

Freddie Gilroy and the Belsen Stragglers

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.

Freddie Gilroy and the Belsen Stragglers, sculpture in Scarborough by Ray Lonsdale

11 thoughts on “Freddie Gilroy and the Belsen Stragglers”

  1. I always visit Freddy when in Scarborough and sit with him and reflect what a gratitude we owe to all the brave young men who fought for our freedom.

  2. On 27 January 2019 I had mentioned on a friend’s Facebook post marking World Holocaust Day that my father was with the first British troops who entered Bergen-Belsen in April 1945. He was 33 and it had a profound effect on him for the rest of his life. One of her friends posted this article and it’s so good to know that Freddie and my father, Jack, have such a beautiful permanent memorial. My father died in 2003 I only wish he and Freddie met, perhaps they did.

    1. I can’t imagine what that experience must have been like; it would certainly never leave you. Perhaps Jack and Freddie did meet – nice thought. Thanks for leaving a comment – hope you make it to Scarborough sometime to see the statue yourself. And I hope you find other things of interest on A Bit About Britain.

  3. Wow! Just saw a fleeting comment about this on FB and tried to find out more – brillisnt piece of art – and thank you for the lady who had rnabled it to be a permanent feature of Scarborough

  4. Welcome to WordPress, Mike, great to see you here. Your site looks fantastic. May I suggest that you activate the Likes feature, so that fellow WordPressers, and others who have a Gravatar account, may Like any of your most interesting postings.

    Freddie has a wonderful spot where he can gaze over to Europe forever-more, remembering his experience at Bergen-Belsen, and reminding us of the brutalities of War, the like of which, being decidedly optimistic, we’ll never see again!

      1. Great, look forward to seeing them as I am now Following you! BTW, the community of bloggers and support forums etc are very friendly and supportive. I have no doubt you’ll enjoy your stay here…keep exploring! 😀

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