A D-Day garden paying tribute to Britain’s war heroes will be the centrepiece of this year’s Chelsea Flower Show – but the veteran who inspire it died in December aged 97 while it was still being designed.
Award-winning designer John Everiss, who spent some time with D-Day hero Bill Pendell before he died, said that his story shows why the veterans must be heard from before it is too late.
Mr Pendell is represented by two life-sized statues in the garden, who landed on Gold Beach with the 11th Armoured Division during D-Day.
One portrays Mr Pendell as a veteran proudly wearing his medals; the other shows him as a 22-year-old poised to rush out of the water to the beachhead.
Mr Everiss told The Telegraph: “Bill has been involved with D-Day Revisited charity for a number of years and he sort of encapsulated everything that D-Day veterans mean.
“He was modest, cheeky, funny and just a lovely character and very unassuming about his role during D Day. They were all like that.
“I count myself lucky that I met him before he died, he was just a lovely, lovely chap.
“It’s quite difficult to get his story out about D-Day as none of them really want to talk about it and it’s important they do and we pass on their stories for the next generation.”
The gardener said he had planned to get Mr Pendell to come to the garden and tell visitors about his story in May.
He explained: “That was the plan, this kind of really confirms why we are doing this garden, D-Day veterans are very precious, there are very few of them left.
“We have still got these D-Day veterans here with us, they can still tell us face to face and this is why we wanted to do this now.
“The youngest veteran the charity works with is 92 so let’s cherish them while we can. Chelsea will give the veterans the chance to talk to people who walk past and tell their story.”
The war hero was involved in designing his statue, and had great input in to how the representation of him was dressed.
Mr Everiss said: “I had the initial concept but didn’t want to go too far until I spoke to him, we spoke about the idea of him having a conversation with himself. He found that quite comical to start with. He had a lot of input about what he wore.
“He sent messages to the front line but also had to scout out the front lines to see where the enemy troops were deployed, so he had his own uniform that he liked to wear, which was a large leather overcoat he wore over his uniform. It enabled him to get in and out of his vehicle very quickly and when he was crawling through undergrowth it didn’t snag on anything.”
D-Day veterans visiting the garden will recognise the plant the gardener chose – sea thrift – as they will have seen it on the shores of Britain and as they landed in Normandy.
Mr Everiss commented: “I wanted to pick a plant that would look spectacular for Chelsea, but it’s also a plant that the soldiers will be familiar with. They would have seen the sea thrift as they embarked and as they landed.”
The organisers are crowdfunding to raise £75,000 to make the garden into a permanent tribute to our D-Day veterans.