Hunter poppy forging day

Australians, particularly those in the Hunter Valley, have a unique opportunity to be part of a special First World War memorial being created in September by an international group of blacksmiths in Flanders, Belgium.

In preparation for the event, Hunter artist blacksmith, Will Maguire, has organised a community forging day on May 7 at his Elderslie workshop (near Branxton) for people to make hand-forged steel poppies that will become an integral part of the proposed memorial.

Will is to represent Australia at the Belgium event that marks the 100th anniversary of World War I. He has been invited as one of 25 master blacksmiths from around the world, to design and make one of 25 featured fence panels to surround an 11-tonne steel cenotaph that will be erected near Ypres, Belgium.

The memorial will stand as a symbol of reconciliation and unity for future generations, commemorating all sides of the conflict – those who died as well as those who survived. The project holds extra significance for Will as his great grandfather, Roy Hamilton of Singleton, fought with the Australian Imperial Forces 34th Battalion in Flanders during the First World War.

September’s week-long forging event will involve more than 150 blacksmiths from countries including Russia, Japan, Palestine, Ukraine, Chile, America, Denmark, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and throughout Europe. It is being co-ordinated by the Belgium Guild of Blacksmiths and the British Artist Blacksmiths Association.

As a journeyman blacksmith eight years ago, Will lived and worked in England with British smiths who are helping to organise the memorial. They invited him to be Australia’s only master to design a fence panel and lead a team in Belgium to build it.

“This project is not glorifying war. It is the initiative of a group of craftspeople with an international spirit of collaboration and friendship to acknowledge a dark part of our collective history,” Will said.

The cenotaph and surrounding memorial panels will be permanently installed adjacent to the German War Cemetery at Langemark Poekapelle, near Ypres. The simple seven metre high rectangular main structure featuring a stylised Flanders poppy will stand in a circular field of 2016 forged steel poppies that will be made all around the globe and be transported to the site.

Will wants to give the community an opportunity to contribute as many Australian-made poppies as possible.

On May 7, at his Elderslie workshop, near Branxton, he will hold an open forging day. Everyone is welcome to come along and try their hand at making a poppy, or sponsor one to be made by an experienced blacksmith on the day. They will all be sent to Belgium for the memorial field. The forging day also aims to raise money to help with the significant cost of participating in such an event, so a donation of $30 will be asked for making or sponsoring a poppy.

Poppy blanks are being generously supplied by the Artist Blacksmiths Association of NSW and international shipping is being co-ordinated by numerous blacksmiths throughout Australia.

To participate, or find out more, please email Will at poppyforging@outlook.com or P 0423 289 648.

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Tracey Edstein Image
Tracey Edstein

Tracey Edstein is the editor of Aurora Magazine, the official magazine of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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