Last week, the borough recognised the bravery and valour of a 19-year-old Bermondsey boy at the unveiling of the statue to WW1 hero Albert McKenzie – but we ought to also honour the hard-work and dedication of the people whose grassroots campaign made the memorial a reality.
The Albert McKenzie VC War Memorial Committee was formed in 2010 when resident Paul Keefe discovered, to his shock, that the only tribute to the Bermondsey legend had been lost during renovations at Grange School.
He enlisted the support of then-MP Simon Hughes, Albert’s great-nephew Colin McKenzie, Admiral Lord West and others, who fought tirelessly – and hosted countless fundraising drives and bucket collections – to raise the £142,000 necessary to fund project.
Kevin Boys, the Bermondsey-based sculptor commissioned to design the statue, and local resident Steve Cornish, also spent hundreds of hours over the next five years carrying out painstaking research in order to ensure that the spirit of “one of Britain’s bravest” was truly captured.
As the committee will be at pains to stress, however, this campaign’s success depended on the involvement of the whole Bermondsey community. As Paul Keefe said at the unveiling ceremony, every man, woman and child who gave money to make this come to fruition can be very proud.
In the Albert McKenzie statue, Bermondsey now boasts a rarity: a tribute to an individual, everyday civilian soldier.
Most of the military memorials that are scattered across London are dedicated to the famous, such as Lord Nelson, or the many, such as the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.
This statue now serves as a reminder of one man’s bravery, but also of the hard work and dedication of an entire community.