“My project is looking at an incident that my grandfather was involved in, in 1945, it’s The Yangtze Incident. The main story has been heavily publicised but there’s one strand that’s never been told — that’s my grandad’s story. He got thrown overboard with 49 other men — they had no idea where they were going, had to trek through minefields, two guys got taken as Prisoners of War, and they eventually made their way to Shanghai, to safety.
I took his memoir and I wanted to relay the emotions and fear that he felt in architecture, just to get the story across about how horrific it was and the fact that these men need recognition.
I took the shape of the ship — the HMS Amethyst — I blew it up, to create a shrapnel concept and put the shapes back together, designed in 5mm steel sheets. I put the shapes back together in geodesic and geometric shapes. Each single sheet was specifically played to relay a fear or feeling or emotion that he had written in a letter for me. Some of them get tighter where there’s fear in the story, some are really open because it’s a sense of adventure, the minefield is all jagged. It stands as an exhibition and as a memorial.
Because this is such a raw structure and the story is heavy going, I decided to create a child’s activity to make it more family friendly. I created a silhouette of Simon the cat, who is one of the most famous members of the crew because he got a Dickin medal, which is the highest award an animal can get. The children are told at the begin that they have to go and find Simon and right round the end before you exit, there’s a huge bit where children can climb up and about. It just gives it a softer edge.
I actually got help from Lieutenant Commander Stewart Hett, who was on board. He’s been the one that’s tried to actively tell the story. He’s really, really supported me and given me so much archived information and material. I’ve had his support and I’ve been invited to attend the 65th anniversary of the incident and take my grandfather’s place on the memorial committee. Alongside that, when I go to Plymouth in September, Lt. Commander Stewart Hett is supporting me in presenting my plans to the museum.”
Find out more about Rebecca’s project and follow its future on her blog.