A moving mural has appeared on the wall of a St Clements Church in Salford ahead of this year’s Remembrance Sunday, as a commemoration to a young soldier who lost his life in the First World War.
The mural appeared this week in the car park of the church in Ordsall. It centres around a young soldier by the name of Alan Knight, who was born in Salford and baptised at the church. He joined the war effort when he was still a teenager, and sadly lost his life on the battlefields of Belgium, aged just 19.
One of the artists who painted the mural, Tony – also known as Kelzo – first heard of Alan’s story online. He said: “I run a Manchester History group on Facebook, because I’m really passionate about local Manchester and Salford history.
“Earlier this year, I saw a story that someone posted to the group about someone in Buckinghamshire who had found a photograph of this soldier, Alan Knight, and restored it. They were looking for some family connection to him in Salford, because that’s where he was born, so someone shared it to my group, and I saw it. I felt so sorry for him, poor kid, he was only 19 – and, he grew up in Hulme, where I live, only just up the road on Lloyd Street, so the connections were there.
“Then a university student called Malina Ibusheva got in touch and said she was making a documentary about this story for her dissertation, which got me thinking – wouldn’t it be nice to paint a mural of Alan somewhere in Ordsall?
“We spent months looking for somewhere to do it, and so we ended up asking St Clements Church if we could use the wall in their car park, and they allowed us to do it. So Malina was able to film bits of it for her documentary, and it’s gone down an absolute storm with the local community.”
Tony was aided in the completion of the piece by fellow street artist Evan Barlow, also known as @artistlad on Instagram. For him, the connection to Alan Knight was about more than just commemorating his individual sacrifice.
He said: “I was born in 1991, so for me personally, I don’t have a direct connection to the war. Although, I realise the importance of commemorating young men who gave their lives and continue to give their lives in war.”
For Tony, completing the mural was an unexpectedly emotional experience. He recalls: “I never thought I’d get caught up in the emotional side of it, but I really did – you start getting a bit choked up when you step back and look at the lad, because he was only 19. But, it’s nice for the people of Salford, and especially Ordsall, to see when they walk past.”
Both artists hope that their artwork will be a source of education, as well as a visually pleasing addition to the local community, as Tony comments: “People who lived during World War One are no longer around, and there are very few still alive who remember World War Two as well. So, in many ways, it’s an educational insight into the youth of that time, and that is also an educational tool for the youth of this time.”
Bringing those historical allusions to life was a key part of many of the artistic choices that were made in designing the piece, as Evan explains: “Visually, we wanted the painting to fit in with its surroundings in the colour selection we chose. There is a reference to the Belgian flag in the sky and LS Lowry-style painting in the background to give a historic feel.
“When we were filming the documentary, the filmmaker wondered if the boy would have realised that 100 years later, people would be remembering him.”
Tony agrees: “I’ve never really gotten into painting stuff to do with the war, because sometimes I think memorials can be grim, but I think we managed to create that one in an uplifting way, and we added a bit of vibrancy to a story from the past that reflects on a story of a young lad from that area.
“What’s really nice is that he was baptised in that church, so even though he’s laid to rest in Belgium, he’s also come home – we’ve brought him home in spirit.”
Thanks to this stunning piece of artwork, the Salford community will indeed remember the bravery of Alan Knight, one of their own, who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, his community, and his family.